Nothing is exciting about Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times. The book is structured like a straight road with most minute bumps. The novel throws all sorts of problems at you and there’s no resolution.
The novel follows the protagonist Ava who teaches rich children English in Hong Kong. She begins by paying the rent with three other people in a small place but she gradually spends more and more time with Julian a banker. Both are unable to express their feelings to each other and just let sex do the talking. When Julian goes to London to work Ava remains in the apartment without paying rent and using his money to buy stuff. Including treats for her new girlfriend Edith.
Of course Julian eventually returns and she still ends up seeing both of them. Although Julian knows she is her girlfriend as she accidentally sent a draft message to him. The plot had the potential to be thrilling but it’s just implausible and messy.
Dolan has been said to be the new Rooney. The novel is certainly similar in respect to the themes and the chaotic relationship, but Dolan doesn’t have the same sophistication with her writing Rooney does.
Class plays a big role in the novel. Ava, of course, is trying to save rent and by living free with Julian she can do that. Julian went to Oxford and is a banker, he has more than enough money and she resents that. It is similar for Edith as well. She seems to be surrounded by rich people; at work, at home and in her mind. The class discussion again has potential but it seems forced and is too in your face.
Dolan also attempts to discuss the complications of relationships. The need to be dependent on someone because you don’t want to take control. But Ava’s inner monologues come out as cringe in an attempt to be relatable. At one point she says: “I’d never know if other people were as graphic as me in their daydreams and we all just pretended we weren’t”. Dolan seems to be presenting Ava as this single person who encompasses all these problems and it just seems fake.
One last problem is the setting. Ava is Irish but moves to Hong Kong for some sort of escape. The culture seemed off. It seemed to British. Of course, the characters are all heavily cultured in a British way, but I had hoped to see some better representation of Hong Kong.
I did give this book three stars because Dolan writes well. It was a smooth and easy read and while the ending is unsatisfactory, the plot is engaging. Dolan has potential. The whole novel had potential. Perhaps her next novel will be an exciting time!