book review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

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EXCITING TIMES by Naoise Dolan
★★★★★
Ecco, June 2, 2020

 

Exciting Times is the most Sally Rooney book to have not been penned by Sally Rooney.  In a way that statement is overly reductive of Naoise Dolan’s fresh and distinctive voice, but still, the fact remains: if you don’t find Sally Rooney to be much to write home about, steer clear of this debut about Irish socialist millennials overanalyzing their messy and self-destructive relationships.  But if you’re like me and that’s sounds like a recipe for perfection, you’ll probably love this.

Shown through the eyes of an Irish expat living in Hong Kong, Exciting Times essentially focuses on a love triangle between narrator Ava and two individuals who in many ways are polar opposites – the rich, tactless English banker Julian and the elegant, clever Hong Kong native Edith.  Each is distinctly compelling, though the love triangle itself isn’t what moves the narrative so much as Ava navigating her own boundaries and ethics and evolving perspective on relationships.  Irish identity is another theme that takes center stage; Ava is an English teacher and finds herself tempering her natural speech patterns so that she teaches ‘correct’ English to her students.  It’s a thoughtful, clever, meditative book from a number of angles.

Dolan’s prose is this novel’s shining jewel; she has such a compact, witty, dry voice – it won’t be for everyone and I can see where others might find that it grows wearisome as the novel chugs along, but I found it consistently charming.  ‘”Anything strange?” said Mam on the phone.  She really said it, “antin strange,” but if Brits spelled Glosster as Gloucester then I supposed Mam deserved similar leeway.’

Exciting Times is definitely this year’s Normal People while also being very much its own thing, and I recommend it very highly.

Thank you to Netgalley and Ecco for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.


You can pick up a copy of Exciting Times here on Book Depository.

11 thoughts on “book review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

  1. So glad you liked this – it’s such an underrated book. Also glad to see you also thought it was similar to Sally Rooney, I had the exact same impression. And meditative describes it quite well. Great review!

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  2. Interesting! I’m pretty tired of books about millennials having self-destructive relationships, I have to say, but the Hong Kong setting makes this sound a bit different.

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  3. I a) don’t like Sally Rooney nearly as much as most other people seem to, and b) thought Exciting Times was excellent. The language angle really made it stand out to me, and Ava’s just that bit *weirder* than Rooney’s characters, which I much, much prefer. I’m permanently annoyed by novels that seem to be representing millennial experience in ways I don’t recognize (I really don’t know anyone who would make decisions about their love life the way Ava does), but Dolan’s attention to performative language really convinced me this was more than the sum of its parts.

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  4. “The most Sally Rooney book to have not been penned by Sally Rooney” — I love it! I’m lukewarm about Rooney, having loved Conversations but not Normal People. The particular setup of this one is appealing, though, if awfully similar to my friend Melissa Duclos’s novel Besotted (bi love triangle, teaching English in China).

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  5. “the most Sally Rooney book to have not been penned by Sally Rooney” DOES sound like perfection to me!! This book has been on my TBR for a while, but now I’m so much more motivated/excited to get to it!

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  6. Great review! None of the Sally Rooney comparisons I’ve come across have lived up to expectations so far, so I’m glad to see you thought the comparison was more apt with this one. I’m looking forward to picking this up. Happy to see you loved it! 🙂

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