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Exciting Times

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When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:

– a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children;
– Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room;
– Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks;
– money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections.

Exciting times ensue.

279 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2020

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About the author

Naoise Dolan

8 books726 followers
Naoise Dolan is a queer and autistic Irish writer born in Dublin. She obtained an English degree from Trinity College Dublin in 2016 and later a Master's Degree in Victorian Literature from Oxford University. Her first novel Exciting Times had an excerpt published in The Stinging Fly by Sally Rooney and became a Sunday Times bestseller.

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Profile Image for emma.
1,819 reviews45.2k followers
January 18, 2022
NOTE: I am coming in here a little over a year after writing this because I have changed a bit as a reader and reviewer, and want this, which is still getting eyes on it pretty constantly, to reflect that.

I hid this entire review due to spoilers (but mostly because I'm tired of everyone getting mad at me and misinterpreting what I'm trying to say).

I know that authors are not the same as narrators, and some of my favorite books have had unlikable or problematic main characters that are separate from the person who wrote them.

I know that this book is attempting to discuss imperialism and colonization and race, but in my opinion, it bungles it.

Furthermore, there are implicit biases in this book that go beyond that intentional discussion.

Finally, I thought there was a lot of promise in this book. I liked the writing. I found it interesting at times. I might try Naoise Dolan again. But unfortunately the constant onslaught of bigotry and toxicity, both intended and not, ruined it for me.

Here's my original review:


Where to even begin.

Well, I suppose I will begin with the Lofty Assumption that most of you reading this review have not read this book, because the only reason I even justified myself finishing it is because I very much wanted to be the top review of this and give it one star, and I only validated my own belief in my ability to do so by threatening all of you who TBRed it with grievous bodily me-yelling-at-you. (Goodreads admin, this is not a threat, just a possible scolding.) (Don’t take down my review, please.) (You have never done that to this point and to be honest it feels like I’m playing with fire at this juncture.)


This has spoilers in it, I guess, but honestly I don’t know what there is to spoil. I don’t say what the ending is, and this book has no real plot, but there’s your warning.

An Irish expat, Ava, who moves to Hong Kong for truly no reason, except perhaps for the challenge of surrounding herself with 100 percent white people in a not-majority-white country, or otherwise being a one-woman force of colonization. She starts working as an English teacher for kindergarteners, and she’s comically reprehensible at it.

Ava then meets Julian, a relatively nice banker who is treated with all the warmth and friendliness warranted by the biological offspring of Satan.

Later, after milking Julian for all he is worth and while living solo in his intensely bougie apartment and solely off of his kindness, Ava starts sleeping with Edith, who might be the first Asian adult with dialogue in the whole book. (This occurs at, like, the halfway point.)

Casual racism; privilege not only the characters but the author exist in total unawareness of; unrelenting and sickening entitlement; self-serious prose that is only sometimes as good as it thinks it is; and more stuff of nightmares.

Let’s get into it.

But first, let’s say that it’s actually disturbing that this proudly presents itself as A RECOMMENDED BOOK FROM:
The New York Times Book Review * Vogue * TIME * Marie Claire * Elle * O, the Oprah Magazine * Esquire * Harper's Bazaar * Bustle * PopSugar * Refinery 29 * LitHub * Debutiful

Like...thank you, The Caucasian Review.

A lot of the racist overtone / undertone / overall tone of this comes from the fact that, as my dear darling Lily pointed out to me when I was still hopeful this would be the Sally Rooney-esque lit fic of my dreams, there is really no reason for this to be set in Hong Kong.

Not only is it treated as interchangeable with really any Asian country (gross), it could really be set anywhere and be equally effective. It’s disturbing. (Also deeply ironic to title the book “exciting times” when it exists in utter ignorance of the political climate in Hong Kong that would warrant that phrase.) (Not to mention nothing about this plot is exciting.)

But this point would be really hard to prove in a witty, quick way using mostly acerbic commentary on dumb quotes. So thankfully the racism also comes in more egregious varieties.

Let’s start off relatively subtle, like this moment when Ava is thinking about her class: “My favorite students were the girls with neat copybooks. I knew they’d grow up to be like Edith, and was glad Hong Kong had a long-term supply.”

Can you spot the racism? Let’s say it together. Okay, in unison: Drawing On Stereotypes Of Asian Female Students And Describing Them All As Interchangeable With Your Asian Girlfriend Is Not A Good Look! Nice job, everybody!

Time for round 2! How about when our white author has the only Asian character say, “Basically,” Edith said, “my gran is the Hakka version of a British expat.”

You need a little bit of history to ID this one...any guesses? If you wrote down “It’s also not a good look to compare a citizen to a colonizer because (checks notes) said citizen still speaks their native language,” you’re correct!

But let’s meander on back to stereotyping. One of only a handful of Asian characters with speaking lines is Edith’s mom, who is, you guessed it, a classic Tiger Mom archetype. That’s gross enough, but it, as always, gets grosser when Ava’s self-centering analysis gets involved!

Edith, who is very rich, tries to speak to Ava about the guilt she feels over how her mother treats the maid. Here’s how that goes:
“‘Just [my mom], in general. She’s so rude to Cristina [the maid] and I act normal about it, like that’ll make it less awkward. But it’s not about social graces anyway. There’s no way of treating her that would make her working conditions okay.’
‘Aren’t working conditions part of how you treat someone?’ I said. ‘That’s why I hate Benny. It’s not that he doesn’t ask nicely. It’s that he’s not really asking.’”

Yes. You read that right. Ava is comparing her job at a school where she doesn’t really like her boss to a maid’s job where she is underpaid, discriminated against, and dehumanized :) how does Ava live :) her life is just simply...so hard :)

This story also follows, in its entirety, a white person who is not only gentrifying but colonizing a nonwhite country. This constantly feels icky, but at no point does it feel ickier than in this conversation between Julian (who speaks first) and Ava:
“‘Can you [find somewhere to live]? I know you said your salary wasn’t very high.’
‘It’s good compared to locals’. They all live somewhere.’
‘With their parents, or else in coffin homes.’”

You honestly have to admire the amount of shittiness in these three lines of dialogue. Gentrifier colonizer bullshit, topped with a lack of self awareness that they are the ones driving up rent costs for those locals, causing them to have nowhere to live, combined with a total ignorance of homelessness, combined with an inability to recognize one’s own privilege, combined with a god complex.

Chef’s kiss.

If you are still one of the white people who gets overly defensive of their whiteness - like, the kind whose first thought upon seeing a Black Lives Matter protest is to cry about “reverse racism” - first off, wow, you can read? Amazing. And secondly, you should read this book, filled with white people so intensely intolerable in their whiteness that any white pride will flutter out of your lil brain.

(Also, I’m white. I just want to take that arrow out of the quiver of whoever’s going to get mad at me in the comments of this review.)

We follow a protagonist who is constantly having thoughts like, “Something I admired in him was that he could calmly note where he benefited from unfairness - not self-indulgently like I often did, but factually.” Imagine thinking it’s cute to do bits about your privilege in 2020.

Or this conversation, between Ava and her then-girlfriend Edith:
“‘You’re not noticing because you’re white,’ Edith said. ‘People see me and assume I’m from here.’
‘But you are from here.’
‘Kind of,’ she said. ‘But you miss things when you spend your teens abroad.’
It sounded like something a therapist might have told her, oddly phrased to squeeze developmental insight into not very many words.”

Can you imagine having such a patronizing and condescending response, as a white person when a person of color who is important to you is trying to share their experience? Straight to jail, Ava. No, electric chair. No, worse: I sentence you to a life where every jellybean you eat is somehow buttered popcorn flavored, no matter what color it is.

It’s a similar case with Ava’s response to Edith describing colonial segregation in Hong Kong: “I wanted her to give me one of her spiels.” So condescending and dismissive :) I changed my mind - it’s the electric chair again :)

Or when Julian’s dad tells Ava a story from Hong Kong history, she feels “it would have been a better story if I’d known more about the figures involved.” Ah, yes. The story’s fault. Not because you moved to a country and expressed no interest in learning anything about it. AVA, YOU IGNORANT SLUT. (This is a The-Office-referencing-SNL reference. Not me calling Ava a slut. Thank you for your time.)

A lot of this book’s inexplicable moral compass can be enlightened when Julian talks about his ex, a girl with a rich father who mocked him for going into banking while her father paid her as she did unpaid publishing internships that he used his connections to garner her. Julian explains, and Ava tells us, that “The ex was probably a better person now, he said. Everyone was terrible aged twenty.”

The foundational assumption that everyone’s early-twenties rough patch includes a disturbing amount of privilege working hand in hand with an utter ignorance of it, plus an unwillingness to recognize it, explains how this book is so f*cking intolerable.

It’s been a long time since I wrote a rant review this long, but old-timers will recall that whenever I get so mad that I have to whip out the bolded subheadings, there’s always a General Stupidity section. This is where I tuck away minor errors, things that will only make me mad but I still won’t shut up about, and...hilariously inaccurate medical statements considering today’s climate. Apparently.

Yes, we have a face-mask faux pas:
“Next day at work I had a cough that cut off all my sentences. Joan gave me a mint-green face mask. I said I didn’t need one and she told me that if parents saw me coughing without it, they’d worry I’d infect their kid. At lunch I googled and discovered the mask was likelier, if anything, to breed germs by trapping hot air.”
It’s just so funny. The author had no way of knowing that when her book was published, we’d be in the early stages of a global pandemic that disproved this mildly racist assumption, but I do find it amusing how stupid it makes her look anyway.

Ava is also a very bad person who is bad at her job. On her last day, she notes that
“Many [students] brought cards, including the ones whose names I forgot.” Imagine being a white person teaching Asian students for months on end and not even bothering to learn their names. IMAGINE IT!!!!!!

I very much wish I could have liked this book. In fact, I liked it for a little longer than I should have: It drew comparisons to my favorite author, Sally Rooney; it contains lines like “It was as if someone else ironed everything for her - her whole life - and her role was to make new creases”; it’s very readable.

I’d like to think that eventually, I would have realized on my own all the ways in which this book was not okay, but I don’t know if I would have. In truth, it was Lily who very kindly and patiently explained to me what was wrong. And she did so even as my initial response to her was to be somewhat defensive.

Being an ally is an ongoing process of learning. I’m trying but I’m not that great. I am extremely grateful in my process that so many of you will kindly tell me when I’m f*cking up, even though that can be scary for you to do.

All I can tell you is that I will keep putting allyship over my comfort, and I will keep trying. I hope I net out more positive than negative, but I’ll keep trying either way.

Bottom line: F*ck this book and please don’t read it. <3

have you ever read a book so terrible that you have to annotate it to keep track of how terrible it is?

meet that book.

review to come / realistically 1 star

currently-reading updates
reading the book that made lily tweet this:

white authors writing books that are set in asia, but have a set of characters that are 98% white with only a few token, stereotypical asian characters 🥴

— lily ☁️ (@sprnklsofdreams) October 17, 2020

(i am only finishing this because i'm slumpy and i got too far in to not want to write the rant review. if i see one single person add this to their tbr because of the attention i'm bringing to it, i will yell at you personally.) (DON'T READ THIS BOOK.)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for luce (tired and a little on edge).
1,417 reviews3,393 followers
August 27, 2021
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2 ½ stars (rounded up to 3)

“I felt I had hitherto woefully misdirected my energies in attempting to cultivate a personality. If you didn’t have one then that left more room for everyone else’s.”

With so many professional reviewers hailing Exciting Times as one of the best debut novels of 2020, praising Naoise Dolan for her wit and her razor-sharp social commentary, or describing her book as being “droll, shrewd and unafraid”, this promised to be an intelligent and compelling read. Sadly, as with a lot of hyped new releases, Exciting Times wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

While part of me rejoiced at the sight of quotations marks (yes, I’m looking at you Sally Rooney), I soon found myself wondering where the ‘wit’ I was promised was (in case you are wondering, largely MIA).
Exciting Times is an innocuous debut novel. It follows the tradition of the alienated young woman, which has regained traction over the past years, in no small part thanks to Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. The women who populate these novels have a lot in common with Esther Greenwood, who is perhaps the supreme example of the alienated female narrator (then again I think this title should go to Natalie Waite from Shirley Jackson’s Hangsaman). Ava, the protagonist of Dolan’s novel, is far less morbid than Plath’s or Moshfegh’s narrators. Her alienation comes across as a phase of sorts, something she was experiencing merely for the sake of the aesthetics. Still, Ava’s millennial despondency does seem to make her prone to bouts of lethargy and ennui.

“The trouble with my body was that I had to carry it around with me.”

At 22 Ava decides to leave Dublin behind and move to Hong Kong where she ends up teaching English grammar. Because she didn’t like herself in Ireland she believes that a change of scenery will either improve her personality or the way she sees herself. In Hong Kong Ava makes few attempts at socialising with her colleagues or her roommates, and it is only when she meets Julian, a banker, that she begins to be interested in someone other than herself. The two form a bond of sorts, which sees them occasionally sparring about the fraught history between Britain and Ireland, while for the most part they seem content with being cynical together. Soon enough Ava moves into Julian's guest bedroom. While he’s back in England Ava meets and ‘falls’ for Edith who, unlike Julian, openly reciprocates her feelings.

“Keeping up with both of them took work, but their similarities lent the enterprise a certain economy of scale.”

The plot as such sees Ava obsessing about either Julian or Edith, checking their Instagram accounts, over-analysing their texts, and attributing a special meaning to everything they say or do.
In passing she talks with others about class, race, abortion. But these topics are briefly mentioned, and for the most part Exciting Times is about Ava’s detachment from others. In a certain way I can see why this novel could appeal to fans of Rooney as the narrative is very much focused on creating and maintaining an aesthetic of detachment. Ava is all about the ‘conceal don’t feel’. She feels ‘wrong’, ‘bad’, ‘damaged’, ‘messed up’, ‘different from other people’...you get the gist. While this is in part intentional, and both Julian and Edith call her out on the ‘woe is me’ act, the novel perpetuates this ‘she’s different’ by casually reminding us that she has a right to feel ostracised given that once a girl in school was homophobic towards her. Personally I don't think that just because she spends large portions of her time daydreaming, envisioning what ifs scenarios, or wondering how others see her, she's actually ‘different’.
The novel is so focused on being clever that it ends up not having anything substantial to offer.
Ava’s alleged ‘aloofness’ seemed an excuse for her character not to have a personality. One of my favourite literary characters is Charlotte Bronte's Lucy Snowe, someone who is aloof, distant, occasionally manipulative, and who hides her feelings from the reader. In spite of this we do see glimpses of her emotions. Ava instead just tells us that she ‘loves/hates’ someone...and I just didn’t feel it. If anything she was infatuated with the idea of love...which brings me to the ending. Are we meant to believe that there was any character growth on her part? Cause I don't…
Much was made of the power dynamics between her and Julian. Ava plays her own violin insisting that if she were to end things with Julian she would have to find a ‘crammy’ room...and I’m meant to feel sorry for the circumstances she’s in? She is employed, and earns far more than others, and has enough savings to leave Julian’s apartment (or make a small contribution). Yet, her ‘dilemma’ is made into this ‘big thing’.
Lastly, in the novel Hong Kong is a mere cardboard backdrop for Ava’s existentialist crisis. The story could have been set in any city outside of Ireland and it would barely need changing. Mentioning Hong Kong’s political unrest now and again was not enough.

Some positives
Julian and Edith, although not strictly likeable, felt much more like well-rounded people. I couldn’t see why they were both interested in Ava given how self-involved she was.
Dolan has a knack for dialogues. They are extremely realistic: at times the characters talk about nothing, misunderstand each other, use the wrong words to express what they feel...her back-and-forths, or banter, between certain characters was fairly engaging.
Most of all I loved the way Dolan writes about the English language. Ava is attentive when it comes to English. She often questions people’s word choices (“We discussed whether the word ‘quite’ magnified or diminished a compliment. I sketched a cline on a napkin and put ‘quite’ between ‘a little’ and ‘very’.”) and, given her teaching position, she also reprimands herself for using ‘bad English’.
Dolan rendition of different intonations and accents is evocative:
“Her accent was churchy, high-up, with all the cathedral drops of English intonation. Button, water, Tuesday – anything with two syllables zipped up then down like a Gothic steeple.”

My favourite passages were the ones that focused on language and the ones describing a person's pronunciation or words choices.
Ava does share some genuinely clever insights about the English language or modern methods of communications. For example I particularly liked the way she describes texts:

“We chose what to share. Through composition I reduced my life, burned fat, filed edges. The editing process let me veto post-hoc the painful, boring or irrelevant moments I lived through.”

As I’ve said before, this was an inoffensive novel. It wasn’t thought-provoking or half as witty as it tried to be but it isn’t badly written. I was hoping perhaps for a less glib take on alienation or a more complex interrogation of power dynamics and gender.

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Profile Image for Meike.
1,469 reviews2,293 followers
March 28, 2021
I can see why Sally Rooney is endorsing this! Debut novelist Naoise Dolan tells the story of 22-year-old Ava who just moved from Ireland to Hongkong, trying to figure out what to do with her life. She holds a poorly paid job as an English teacher and befriends Julian, a rich English banker six years her senior. Lonely and broke, Ava moves in with him, Julian pays for pretty much everything and they start having sex. But when Julian is sent to work in London for a few months, Ava falls for Edith, a young lawyer...

It's questionable whether Dolan really writes about a "love triangle" as the blurb states: The dynamic is more complex, with Ava first obsessing over Julian, although he makes it very clear that he doesn't love her, and later entering a relationship with 22-year-old Edith (full name: Edith Zhang Mei Ling) in which they both love each other. Dolan mainly explores ambiguous emotional states and that's what makes the novel so intriguing. While none of the characters are particularly likeable, all of them are interesting and somehow relatable. It is masterful how Dolan plays with the reader's perceptions by using flashbacks that shed a new light on the invidual characters' behaviors and decisions, thus questioning the fairness of the judgement one might initially pass. On top of that, it gradually becomes clear that Ava is an unreliable narrator, and that her descriptions might be accurate from her point of view, but that others strongly disagree.

Dolan adds more layers by contrasting aspects of culture and class: Ava ponders her own Irish identity, Julian's Englishness and the situation in Hongkong (where Edith was born), often referring to political issues like same-sex-marriage, abortion, colonialism, money, and attitudes towards class. All characters interact with expats from all over the world, drawing in even more cultural perspectives. As Ava teaches English, language itself and what is says about the speaker's education, class, and nationality plus what kind of associations it evokes also plays an important role in the text.

As Ava, Julian and Edith try to navigate the impositions life has in store for them, all of them actively tackle some challenges and (willingly) remain adrift in other fields- the variety of options open to those characters are satirized in Ava's penchant for thoughts and descriptions in multiple choice, presenting the reader with possibility a), b), and sometimes even c). These characters are messy and faulty, and especially the relationship between Ava and Julian is rather toxic (Julian to Ava: "To be clear Ava: we're both dead behind the eyes, at least I can pay rent?"; Ava about Julian: "He doesn't want anyone to like him just for him (...) He wouldn't know what to do with the information."), but not free of real affection.

The novel works with many ironic, laconic, deadpan remarks ("We agreed it was an exciting time to be alive") - in this, Dolan resembles German writer Heinz Strunk who also knows how to say one thing while at the same time conveying something completely different. Many of Ava's sentences might be clever, but there is often a sadness to them, rooted in the impulse to hide a feeling of emptiness or disorientation. I really enjoyed the recognizable, edgy tone of the text. The highly undercomplex politics are sometimes a little annoying though and every German will find the mention of Martin Schulz hilarious, although it's most likely not intended to be funny.

This novel already caused a stir way before its publication when it was the hot item in a seven-way bidding war (you can read about it in the Independent or The Bookseller, e.g.). My guess is that there will be a lot of comparisons to Sally Rooney's work, and they do make sense: There is a millennial sensibility to it, and some readers will find that annoying, just as in the case of Rooney. But these two Dubliners won't mind, as their books will sell copies and scoop up awards.

You can listen to my interview with Naoise here, and you can listen to our podcast review here.
Profile Image for GTF.
76 reviews94 followers
June 26, 2021
This novel is a tedious account of one girl’s romantic flings during a year of living abroad in Hong Kong. Heavily influenced by Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ in terms of the tiresome indecisiveness of committing to a relationship, it’s as if ‘Exciting Times’ is just ‘Normal People’ set in China with some extra LGBT content packed in.

The story is told from a first-person narrative of the main character Ava, who is very vague in terms of personality, and who constantly interrupts her own train of thought to make mundane observations of her surroundings. Ava’s narration really fails to create a vivid setting of China; it’s as if the entire story takes place in front of a blank backdrop. There is very little writing dedicated to Chinese culture and traditions. In addition, the narration fails to give any real insight into twenty-first century life and dating, despite Ava’s micro analysis on the topics.

Not only are the main characters very one dimensional, but the supporting characters are too. It appears that a college course and an occupation are substitutes for a personality. What’s worse is that these insignificant characters just keep appearing: friends, colleagues, friends of friends, friends of colleagues, and fulfill very little purpose. These poorly written individuals spend most of their spare time drinking, dining and having self-important debates on social and political issues, the latter of which I think they believe is in some way a virtue.

The love triangle that develops between Ava, Julian and Edith is dull and unconvincing, and is mostly characterised by Ava's uncertainty towards Julian and her romantic clichés with Edith. The plot is virtually non-existent; it mostly comprises of Ava’s inability to read her own emotions towards Julian, and Ava confessing to herself her love for Edith. However, Ava still manages to be deeply unsure whether to choose between Julian or Edith.

‘Normal People’ appears to be setting a trend for vapid soap drama tales that have a window dressing of the Irish millennial lifestyle, all of which is being done to indulge young, Irish non-readers. ‘Exciting Times’ is anything but exciting.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,718 followers
December 7, 2020
Oh my goodness. This book is incredibly fine. Now I know what the phrase ‘razor sharp wit’ really means. On a sentence level the novel delivers one perfect zinger after another. Dolan is particularly good at capturing the way men talk to women whom they mistakenly think are not as smart as they are. The dialog is brilliant throughout. You have to understand that this is the kind of story I have very high standards for because the plot is an evergreen plot: young person at loose ends making her way in the world and deciding who to love. And yet it’s so original. I dove right in and read from beginning to end, and now I’m giving thanks that such a book exists in the world—light, sweet, sad, true.
Profile Image for Henk.
820 reviews
October 15, 2020
Dolan excels in sharp and fun sentences, but that’s not enough to carry a novel revolving about the unexciting travails of an indecisive and indolent millennial
I wanted other people to care more about me than I did about them

At the start of Exciting Times I was wowed by the snappy sentences Naoise Dolan pours over the reader in a rapid succession.
We meet Ava, new to Hong Kong, drifting as a teacher to the new elite (drilled by tiger moms). She is trying to find out how she wants to live her life in this financial centre, and is seemingly detached from her family in Dublin. The first part of the books is about the relation between Ava and Julian, a banker who is as detached as she is and with whom she strikes a pact of not loving each other (I enjoyed his money and he enjoyed how easily impressed I was by it).
The banter between the two of them is the highlight of the book.

But still, around the end of the first part of the book I felt that all the sass between the narrator and Julian became a bit tiresome: do they ever say something non-ironic to each other?
And when is plot coming to the party, after 15 short chapters Dolan is still colouring in the unremarkable and stagnant life of Ava.
Then Ava meets Edith, a lawyer, and there is a bit more energy in the tale, but in the end the actions of Ava rather infuriated me. I wish she had some more self respect and agency; if someone would say to me I suppose it’s a comfort having you I’d feel like a coffee machine and hit them.

The problem I have with the book is that there is not much going on. No real conflict or real life problems (I mean Ava just freeloads, fucks who she wants, frets about that, but takes no action what so ever to improve her lot in any way).
Also the fact that Hong Kong just serves as a generic financial hub background (this book just as well could have been set in London, Frankfurt or Tokyo) makes Ava not only feel self absorbed but also blissfully ignorant to the outside world and for instance the pro democracy protests and the mainland influence. Brexit and Corbyn are mentioned twice, there is something about abortus still being such a thing in Ireland, some talk about colonialism and how the "natives" earn less than Ava, but nothing of this has any effect on her.

In the end I just wanted to rattle her and shout to her that she should stop imagining and start doing shit she proclaims to like or want.
I started to understand less and less why Julian and Edith would like Ava in the first place, and started caring less and less overall about the book.

There are some interesting observation on language and class, but overall this book felt in some way as pretentious and shallow as Ava who pays mock lip service to Communism while not even knowing the name of her housekeeper and concierge.

The richer I got, the harder it would be for anyone to force me to do anything.

I wasn’t good at most things but I was good at men, and Julian was the richest man I’d ever been good at.

Our wealth disparity was too wide to make me uncomfortable.

But if money wouldn’t improve my life, I couldn’t think of anything likelier to.

I wanted to say: my chief sexual preference is that I don’t like you.

You had to pretend to feel sad if you’d been single too long. I hated doing that because there were other things I was actually sad about.

Ralph’s girlfriend Victoria was good at wearing clothes. She was so beautiful I couldn’t see why she was talking to me. Sometimes her eyes said: I don’t know why, either.

I rarely spent the money. I preferred to think of it as time I could use later.

Look, if I could explain my job in a sentence, it wouldn’t pay so well.

I wanted a power imbalance, and I wanted it to benefit me.

That was what we did. We were the sum of the routines we’d built around each other.

Parents couldn’t change society, so they aimed for its inequalities to harm someone else’s child rather than their own.

Like me, he seemed to find it easier to express himself behind a screen.

You still put more time and energy in showing you don’t love me than anyone has ever put in showing me they do.

The only thing we had in common was DNA, which gave us limited mileage conversationally.

This gave him an appetite to hear about my love life, I suspected because it made him grateful not to have one.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,328 followers
April 18, 2020
2.5 stars

So dreary... definitely not exciting... Exciting Times is told from Ava’s perspective. Ava is an Irish expat living in Hong Kong, where she teaches English. The story focuses on Ava’s inner tortured thoughts and feelings as she feels the pull between relationships with English expat banker Julian and local lawyer Edith. Ava does all the wrong things. She can’t commit to the one she loves and she sticks to the one she knows treats her poorly. It’s well written but I have no patience right now for self-absorbed self-loathing. I think I’m also probably a bit too old to relate to these characters’ sensibilities. It took me way too long to read this relatively short book because my attention was easily diverted by other things. As I say, it’s well written so I may simply be the wrong audience or this might be the wrong time. Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,119 reviews1,615 followers
April 19, 2022

La bella copertina delle edizioni Atlantide che a me ricorda Jean Cocteau.

Ava ha sempre quella che di solito si definisce la “battuta pronta”: peperina, spiritosa ma tagliente, caustica. Immagino che lei negherebbe, è così piena di dubbi su se stessa e sembra considerarsi ben più limitata di quanto sia in effetti. Solo che a un certo punto si contraddice. Infatti dichiara:
la sua predilezione per donne in grado di fare battute mordaci. Io non andavo mai in vacanza, quando si trattava di quello.
Questo aspetto a lungo andare si trasforma in un appiattimento del ritmo - e quindi anche assenza dello stesso – ed è forse l’elemento che mi ha fatto amare questo romanzo un po’ meno di quanto probabilmente meriti: ho trovato il suo umore e il suo umorismo, entrambi impregnano il racconto, un pochino martellanti.

Jean Cocteau dipinge.

Ava è una expat. Espatriata. Fa parte della comunità di occidentali (nella quale per diritto di Commonwealth rientrano anche i bianchi australiani) che vive temporaneamente a Hong Kong.
Vivere all’estero è una buona occasione per riflettere sui locali - nel senso di indigeni, ma visto che siamo ormai al 100% nella cultura del food&beverage, i locali su cui riflettere sono anche gli speakeasy, i ristoranti, i bar - i locali che, almeno in prima battuta, si presentano come estranei.
E per riflettere su stessi: sul proprio senso d’estraneità.
Ma anche sul proprio essere, il proprio io.
Ava sembra farlo incessantemente.
Anche perché ha ancora (solo?) ventidue anni.
E ci spinge a seguirla per i successivi diciotto mesi.

Siccome è irlandese e parla inglese, siccome si mantiene in Cina insegnando inglese ai ricchi cinesi, è chiaro che Ava ha a che fare con lingua, grammatica, sintassi, senso e doppio senso delle parole. Il suo riflettere sulla lingua e le sue sfumature è pratica pressoché costante, fa parte di una riflessione più generale sul significato della vita: da straniera tra stranieri, da estranea tra sconosciuti, elaborare sul linguaggio, su differenze e similitudine tra e delle parole, appare alquanto naturale, pure se condotto forse in modo un po’ ossessivo.
Questo aspetto sembra combaciare bene con la traduttrice italiana, Claudia “la straniera” Durastanti, che con riflessioni simili (e tanto altro) ha arricchito il suo bel romanzo memoir.

Tocca parlare di Sally Rooney: perché le due sono entrambe irlandesi e le separa un solo anno d’età, perché a Naoise – che ho appreso pronunciarsi come se fosse scritto Nee-sha - Dolan hanno subito appiccicato l’etichetta di “la nuova Rooney”, perché Sally e Naosie sono amiche, e Sally ha parlato bene di questo libro e ne ha addirittura fatto pubblicare un estratto in una rivista con la quale collabora.
Ma sono diverse. E per quanto abbia gradito e apprezzato la Dolan, il mio amore rimane il primo, Sally.

Anche qui ventenni (la protagonista ne ha 22, l’amica di cui s’innamora altrettanti, il ragazzo con il quale ha una “lunga” storia e del quale in qualche modo s’innamora ne ha ventotto), molto concentrati su se stessi, auto-consapevoli e auto-riferiti (secondo il corso base di psicologia, si definisce così la tendenza dell’individuo a interpretare gli eventi della realtà circostante riferendoli a sé stesso, un atteggiamento che nelle manifestazioni più accentuate è interpretabile come sintomo della paranoia).
Anche qui una certa dose di quello che può apparire come una specie di analfabetismo emotivo.
Ma, anche qui, la sensazione che questi millennials viaggino ad altra velocità (maggiore la loro), abbiano un mondo con meno spazio davanti ma più progresso alle spalle, esempi di libertà ed emancipazione che pochi decenni fa erano ancora solo un miraggio e ora sono saldamente conquistati.
Anche qui la sessualità è fluida, in camera da letto si va con l’altro sesso e altrettanto frequentemente con il proprio, non occorre fare coming out, è nella natura delle cose. E anche se Dolan si ferma a LGBT, è facile capire che è solo perché il suo libro ha un paio d’anni, adesso anche lei userebbe LGBTQ+.

In camera da letto Dolan mi ha portato con estrema parsimonia: usa più che altro il termine scopare, se riferito a Julian, all’uomo (maschio?) e sembra accennarne di sfuggita. Con Esther invece è più generosa e mi ha lasciato entrare: ma mi sono mancate le lunghe descrizioni di corpi che s’incontrano che Sally sa regalare con maestria e nessun voyeurismo.

Ava mente a tutti su tutti, per sua stessa tacita ammissione. Tacita nel senso che formula questa frase tra sé e sé, ma non ha il coraggio di pronunciarla né a Esther né a Julian. Il numero impressionante di bugie si somma a una cifra consistente di omissioni, e anche questa appare manifestazione di una fragilità, di un bisogno di difendersi perfino da qualcosa che non attacca e non minaccia. Esther se ne accorge, la invita a dipingersi meno in negativo, a non considerarsi “speciale in modo cattivo”: Julian invece è troppo distratto o concentrato su se stesso e le sue cose (lavoro in banca, soldi, economia mondiale) da sembrare quasi privo di sentimenti.
I soldi sono argomento ricorrente, Ava ha un forte senso di classe, anche se le frequenta e attraversa tutte senza restare rinchiusa nella sua.

E per quanto i sentimenti siano difficili da vivere ed esprimere fino al punto di reprimerli e farsi male, neppure questi ventenni sono riusciti a sostituirli con altro.
E se comunicare sembra compito ingrato e arduo, anche la comunicazione tra umani non è ancora stata né sostituita né abolita.
C’è confusione, ci sono lingue che preferiscono tagliare, ma il bisogno di tenerezza traspare ugualmente e Dolan è brava a trasmetterlo.
Fragili, impauriti, forse immaturi, ma abili a muoversi nel mondo, temerari, viaggiatori, avventurosi.
Benvenuta Naoise “Nee-sha” Dolan.

Profile Image for Coco Day.
101 reviews2,409 followers
January 26, 2022

flew through this

very relatable, very normal, very sally rooney

i actually like the characters even though they are messed up

nothing really happened but also so much was said in every sentence
Profile Image for Anna Avian.
389 reviews50 followers
September 12, 2020
Vague. Mundane. Pretentious.
The plot is practically non-existent. The main character is very unlikable and never really evolves throughout the book. If the description didn't point out that the story is taking place in Hong Kong I might not have noticed. There are very few Asian characters and almost no references to Chinese culture and traditions. Every conversation between the characters basically circles around their social status, who has a bigger salary, politics and colleges. The love triangle is borderline dull and shallow, full of Ava's insecurities.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews860 followers
May 28, 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.
September 21, 2022

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I write this review wearing a cat granny sweatshirt with a wine stain on it, calmly bewildered that so many people seem to hate this book. On the surface, it feels like EXCITING TIMES the type of book so many of my friends have been asking for. It's set in a non-Western location (Hong Kong), with a morally ambiguous and-- I would argue-- unreliable narrator who masks her anxiety beyond a cold an emotionless parsing of interactions while trying to navigate her uncertainties about her sexuality, class, and lack of ambition.

When we first meet Ava, she's the "kept" FWB of a British banker named Julian who makes it painfully clear that he can take her or leave her. And despite her misgivings about this-- or maybe because of them-- she stays with him while teaching English to young Hongkongese children. She feels isolated from her coworkers and peers, and being adrift as a foreigner in a society that was also colonized by the British (she's Irish) allows her to put distance between the relationships back home that fuel her uncertainty and inadequacy.

Then she meets Edith, a Hongkongese woman who was born abroad and then came back and now works as a lawyer. Edith is everything Julian is not. She actually seems to care about Ava and find her interesting and worth pursuing in the ways that Julian does not. They bond over their shared love of Hong Kong and their own mutual pretensions, but the whole time that Ava and Edith are seeing each other, Ava isn't sure if Edith is into women or, if she is, where that leaves her relationship with Julian.

It's messy and confusing and up until the last quarter of the book, I really, really loved it. I'm a little confused by some of the reviews claiming that this is a racist book, because the entire book seems to feel like a deconstruction of the foreigner's view of Hong Kong, and how British classism and snobbery have infiltrated the culture irrevocably, and how even this is some ways preferable to the looming and uncertain threat of China. I also feel like Ava is meant to act as an unreliable narrator who doesn't realize that she's also using her position in the country for her own selfish ends, and the moments when she really sees Hong Kong, and its people, as more than just backdrops happen more and more as the story progresses, and spends more time from stuffy old Julian and his awful, stuffy friends.

I wasn't fond of the ending, as I said. It didn't ruin the book for me but it felt unrealistic. I did love Ava's removed narrative, though. She actually reminded me a lot of myself in my early twenties when I was depressed and unhappy. It felt like her emotionless tone was a mask she wore to convince herself and others that she didn't care and therefore couldn't be hurt. She even says as much when she tells us, the readers, how she games Julian, closely editing and then reediting her texts to him until they are impossible to misconstrue. It felt like the narrative was a larger reflection of that revelation.

Anyway, I like this book and I'm sorry more people didn't. I almost didn't buy the book because so many of my friends disliked it but then I read the sample and fell in love with the prose, so if you like the idea of reading an interesting book set in an interesting place with an interesting heroine, and you don't mind if the writing is convoluted as long as it's pretty, this might be the book for you.

3.5 to 4 stars
Profile Image for Doug.
1,931 reviews667 followers
June 28, 2020
2.5, rounded down.

I think my reaction to this debut novel is both a question of being the wrong audience ('it's not you, it's me', in other words), and also being the wrong book at the wrong time. The first is because it's a book about and FOR millennials, and Ava, the narrator, being a 22 year old girl, and myself a male 3 times that, meant I had almost nothing in common with her. Not only couldn't I relate to any of her 'problems' (issues would be a more apt appellation, since she is one of the whiniest and neediest protagonists I've ever encountered), but she is so disagreeable and unlikeable that if I were introduced to her at a social gathering, within five minutes I'd be itching to find ANY excuse to depart her company. That's not a great position to be in when reading about anyone for 256 LONG pages.

Secondly, with the glare of the increasing tensions about racial/economic injustice in the US, an unconsciously privileged white girl totally clueless as to such (she has a rich friend who provides her luxury accommodations for free, yet she whines about her perfectly respectable job teaching English at a Hong Kong school) just seemed extremely grating to me right now - I just couldn't force myself to care a whit about her obsessions as to whether Julian, the man she doesn't even care about, really loves her or not; nor whether she will mess up (yet again) a seemingly more promising relationship with the forthcoming Edith (who deserves much better) - none of her problems are earth shatteringly important to anyone but Ava.

That said, Dolan definitely has writing abilities, even more remarkable when one considers she is on the autism spectrum ... and perhaps Ava's inabilities to connect and lack of self awareness are reflective of the author's own issues. And though I wouldn't say there is much in the way of the 'razor sharp wit' that seems to be a go-to phrase in reviews for this, several lines are indeed clever and warrant a chuckle. Finally, while I can understand all the comparisons to Rooney and Moshfegh, I think it's a lazy/facile comparison, and ultimately does the book a disservice.

However, my sincere thanks to Netgalley and to Harper Collins for an ARC in exchange for this (perhaps too?) honest review.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,583 reviews1,978 followers
May 18, 2020
This is the kind of book that people are going to have vastly different opinions on. Some will find Ava absolutely intolerable and insufferable and won't be able to finish the first 25 pages. Some will declare Ava sharp and wise and funny, a hyper-relatable protagonist. And others will find that not much happens and it's just meh. None of them will be wrong, really, it's just one of those books. Ava herself would give much the same impression, which is a sign the book is successful even if it doesn't make it universally appealing.

Ava is 22. She is *deeply* 22. She has no direction. She dislikes everyone and everything, though nothing quite so much as she dislikes herself. She makes terrible choices and puts very little thought into her choices. It can be painful to read about someone as deeply unhappy as Ava. Ava is also queer in the new way people can be queer now, where it is not necessarily a deeply-felt identity or label (the word "bisexual" comes up maybe twice) but given her conservative Irish family, it's still not something she is fully comfortable with. Ava also feels like a young-person-of-this-moment because of her deep awareness of colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity. She sees these things all around her in a way that rings true, it permeates her every thought and shapes the way she views the world.

Ava is smart and acerbic and wants to care not at all what anyone thinks about her. As a narrator, she can be a lot. Within a few pages I had found so many good lines that I was starting to wonder if there were too many good lines. Her constant repartee and sarcasm, coupled with the way she always starts to examine something and then quickly stops the moment it starts to get uncomfortable, can make you as a reader feel a bit like you're a ping pong ball getting batted across the page. You have to have at least a little affection or kinship with Ava, because the book stays at this one level for the entire first half or so, as Ava moves in with Julian, the English banker she is sleeping with. They are not in a relationship, and her moving in is more a matter of convenience than anything. Neither of them exactly likes the sex and the verbal sparring, they are often unkind to each other and it's unclear what the battle of wills is all for, but they seem to recognize in each other some kind of synchronicity. This is a deeply unsettling thing, since Ava hates the idea of being with a privileged, wealthy, British man and Julian isn't exactly excited to parade around an Irish girl who hates him and everything he stands for so openly. But their mutual self-loathing somehow makes this both terrible and pleasurable. It's such a complex thing, but it's relayed in such meticulous detail by Dolan that I feel like I could write a treatise on it.

Into this dynamic comes Edith, who is wealthy, from Hong Kong, educated in Britain, and now working as a lawyer. Ava still hates herself, but something starts to crack inside of her. She cannot be honest with Edith about Julian and she cannot be honest with Julian about Edith, nor can she be honest with herself about either of them. And yet, we see her start to see herself a little more clearly. Maybe she can even start to understand love just a little bit.

It takes a long time for Ava to grow. And even when she does, you wonder if it's really sticking. She is not the type to move in a straight line. It can be exhausting to watch someone so acute act in such deep self-denial, but it takes a long time for her growth to feel satisfying. Which is probably as it should be.

I suspect Sally Rooney comparisons are inevitable, even though this book feels nothing like Rooney's at all. I suppose that is what happens when they are both young Irish women writing about young people in a clear-eyed way. I suspect many of Rooney's readers will find this book unpalatable.

Is this a book for you? Will you enjoy Ava? The good news is that you should be able to figure it out within a few pages. She is such a distinctive and consistent narrator, with a voice and rhythm that is unique and cutting. I am not sure that I like her, but I enjoyed the ride, all things considered.
Profile Image for Baba Yaga Reads.
116 reviews1,426 followers
October 22, 2021
The fact that Naoise Dolan is being touted as “the new Sally Rooney” is nothing short of an insult to Rooney’s work. In fact, Exciting Times (talk about a misleading title) reads like a dry, emotionless version of Conversations with Friends without the subtle characterization and psychological realism that made Rooney a household name. Oh, and the story is supposedly set in Hong Kong, even though the city is merely a backdrop to the protagonist’s supremely uninteresting love life.

Speaking of our protagonist, Ava is a walking stereotype of a millennial: alienated from society, perpetually bored, blissfully unaware of her privilege yet determined to lecture other people on social justice. The words “patriarchy” and “misogyny” are thrown around so often and so randomly that her internal monologue ends up sounding as phony and exaggerated as a Buzzfeed article about manspreading. It’s like the author tried to cram every topical social justice issue — sexism, racism, homophobia, you name it — into a 250 page book, while also failing to provide any in-depth commentary on the topics in question.

What’s most annoying about Ava’s ramblings on female oppression is that they’re completely inconsequential: they never become relevant to the plot or the character’s personal journey. She never stands up to her classist and sexist boyfriend, nor does she use her privilege to help the people around her. She only seems to care about feminism when it gives her an opportunity to play the victim or sound woke. Her behavior towards other women ranges from antagonistic to abusive: she constantly lies to and manipulates her love interest, a rich, beautiful, and popular Chinese lawyer who is inexplicably attracted to our basic bitch of a main character (on that note, is Edith the author’s dream girlfriend? Because Ava definitely reads like a self-insert).

Occasionally there is a line so absurd that I can’t help but laugh. Here is Ava describing her sex life with Julian:
"His interest in making me come felt sinister at first, which revealed to me my assumption that if he wanted something it would probably harm me."
What does that even mean?

The story seems to take place in a bubble that is completely detached from reality. We don’t get a grasp of what Hong Kong looks, sounds, or feels like; despite the fact that our protagonist has just moved there from Europe, she doesn’t seem keen on visiting the city or learning about the local culture. But then again, why explore Hong Kong when you could spend hours scrolling through your Instagram feed (and describing its content in painstaking detail)?
The only interesting bits are those where Ava reflects on language and linguistics, raising important questions on cultural supremacy and who gets to decide what “real” English is. Unfortunately, they weren’t enough to save the book for me.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,741 reviews1,189 followers
April 15, 2021
Now longlisted for the 2021 Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction and for the 2021 Women's Prize

I found this book to be on one level a blend between Ottessa Moshfegh and Caolinn Hughes.

The author is I believe a fan of Ottessa Moshfegh – this book draws on some similar ideas and psychological themes to “Eileen” and “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” but without the grotesqueness and scatological details. This month the author tweeted “What I love about Ottessa Moshfegh is that we are think we’re Eileen when Eileen’s sole theme, basically without digression, is that only Eileen is fully cursed with being Eileen”. I found this very apposite in two ways – first of all it’s a perfect example of Naoise Dolan’s ability to penetrate to the heart of our human pretentions; secondly as what was I think stronger in this book than “Eileen” was how other characters hold up a mirror to Ava and what she believes about her sense of self-worth.

In terms of Caolinn Hughes – with a central character from Ireland with left-wing millennial views, closely involved with a representative of the banks she blames for much of her home country’s current malaise and her own lack of prospects of home ownership, we can see some overlap between Eva and Gael. But Eva is a more subtle character than Gael – happy to form a (literal) accommodation with what she professes to hate. And the politics is also more nuanced. The Blairate (although we suspect he may vote Tory) Julian is (at one time) described by his left wing academic father Miles, as a “centrist son”, but still when asked by Ava “How can you agree with me so much and not like Corbyn” shoots back “I really think the difference stems from our feeling on whether it would be in the national interest to turn Britain into a gulag”. It is hard to imagine Hughes having a character saying that.

The other author inevitably drawn into any comparison is Sally Rooney – a young author, a Trinity Graduate, a successful debater, one with strong left-wing political views, writing about millennials and their relationships and about class/privilege differences: the links are clear and made rather more explicit when extracts of this book were first published in Stinging Fly by Rooney. I see some strong differences though in writing style and subject matter (particularly the exploration of dialogue here). Another difference is in the use of technology – Rooney’s characters are surprisingly 20th Century in their communication styles (with texts and almost epistolary emails) – here Instagram is a near constant companion. Where there is another similarity is in the use of a familiar story (for Rooney respectively an affair with an older married man, and how does friendship translate into love; here a classic ménage-a-trois).

But what about what makes the book distinctive. That is clear – it is a razor sharp ability to dissect the hidden meaning of dialogue and to tease out the different layers of spoken and unspoken communication – all of this filtered through gender differences, sexuality, class, colonialism, race. Some of the vignette conversations are masterpieces in this respect.

The book is also particularly strong on language – Eva’s role as a TEFL teacher gives her the ability to examine language and grammar – and the implicit assumptions within grammatically correct English compared to the different life views in the English of her Irish childhood.

The author herself has written widely about her autism – her need to prepare in advance and parse exchanges and conversations, to consider and clarify people’s meanings and motivations (most notably here - https://www.independent.ie/entertainm...) and I believe that this need informs and strengthens her writing.

The first part of the book almost demands a second copy and a highlighted pen (or I guess more easily a Kindle copy) to highlight the many apposite and clever exchanges and observations between Julian and Ava (and their friends and family).

This kind of pace is difficult to sustain – and on one level it’s a relief when Julian departs for London, and Ava engages with Edith. After a period though, as Ava and Edith fall into (judged by Ava’s standards) an almost normal relationship, the book starts to lose focus and it’s not a moment too late for us (even though a nightmare for Ava) when Julian reappears, as do the clever observations.

Overall a memorable and very promising debut.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,197 reviews35 followers
April 26, 2020
The more I think about this novel the more it suffers in my estimations. Sigh. Here goes... apologies if this review gets a bit ranty.

Exciting Times follows Ava, a 22 year old from Dublin who on graduation from uni moves to Hong Kong to work as a TEFL teacher. Ava soon meets Julian, a British banker, and not long after she moves in with him (mostly to escape the awful Airbnb she's living in) and they start sleeping together. Julian then has to travel abroad for work, and Ava starts spending time with a young lawyer, Edith. I won't go into too much more of the plot, but the rest of the novel is spent following Ava navigate these two relationships to varying degrees of success.

Taken as an internal monologue of a young woman who is insecure (though trying to portray the opposite) doesn't particularly like herself and is trying to "find oneself", or at least her place in the world by running away to Asia then I guess this achieves what it's trying to do. It's just that, unfortunately, being in the head of a self-absorbed young person who thinks they're acerbic, mature and profound when they're patently not makes for quite painful and dull reading. I'm not saying I'm above this - in fact I also moved to Asia aged 22 (Taiwan then China) and taught TEFL - and I was similarly lost at that age, trying to find meaningful friendships and my place in a country where I was so clearly "other" and the like. But - and it's a big but - this narrative doesn't make for an insightful read, and isn't as endlessly fascinating for third parties as it is for the person experiencing this new world themselves. It's plain that Ava feels alienated and insecure and makes up for this by diving into romantic dalliances with detached and unsuitable suitors (at least in the case of Julian, anyway), but it's not possible to see her learning or growing from the experience, and I think that's what made this such a frustrating read for me. I'm happy to admit I may have missed the point of the plot, and that Ava's observations are scathing, witty and hilariously cutting... they just didn't come across that way. Endless ruminating over the significance of romantic relationships with people the character didn't seem that into (her own admission!) fail to elicit more than a yawn from this reader.

Another minor niggle (as someone who is admittedly a big Hong Kong fangirl) - the city fails to come alive on the page, and at times it feels like this story could be taking place anywhere.

On to the writing - it's an unfortunate fact that when an author's first work draws comparisons to Sally Rooney it's pretty much inevitable that readers will be disappointed. While the plot itself has a strong Conversations with Friends vibe I'd describe the writing as more akin to Otessa Moshfegh. It's rather self-conscious at times, too, which I'd be more willing to forgive if the plot hadn't bothered me. As an addition to the "unlikeable young female protagonist" oeuvre perhaps this novel will find its fans.

Phew. So, why two stars and not one? Despite my misgivings this is a very readable book - short chapters of just a few pages had me speeding through it, hoping Ava would come to some realisation and learn from her mistakes. The first half felt a lot stronger than the second, and there were parts I found myself relating to having experienced a similar (at times) level of alienation living so far from home.

Maybe those closer to the protagonists age will get more out of this than I did. Heck, I hope someone does.
Profile Image for Skyler Autumn.
224 reviews1,389 followers
June 18, 2020
3 Stars

A thoroughly enjoyable book in the moment that quickly turns forgettable shortly after read.

Exciting Times follows 22 year old expat with a diamond encrusted vagina cause I don't know how such a mediocre woman seems to be getting the attention of all these successful and wealthy people? So I'm guessing its a diamond vagina. This book is basically a compilation of a lot of sitting and talking and walking and talking and thinking and eating. The story is just a bunch of nothing moments combined to make a book but Naoise Dolan somehow makes these bits of mundane nonsense seem worthwhile when reading until you hit the end and go wait, what?

Three stars because although the story was pages of nothing this was very well written. The fact I continued reading this great pile of nothingness shows that the writing is clearly compelling. I see the comparison to Sally Rooney in writing style, and would definitely read her next book. Fingers-crossed there is an actual story next time.
Profile Image for Lea.
823 reviews169 followers
June 6, 2021
The rumors are true: This does read like Sally Rooney. If Sally Rooney couldn't write, was more cynical and forgot everything about subtlety and realistic characterisation and dialogue. Don't get me wrong, it's not the story itself, the story as a concept it totally up my alley (it has to be, because it sounds like a Sally Rooney novel): A 22 year old Irish expat living in Hong Kong who finds herself in a love triangle with a cold English banker who doesn't want to be her partner but will let her live in his expensive appartment for free, and a young woman from Hong Kong. Intermixed with some "politics" about late stage capitalism, marxism and the class systems. But... boy, this novel feels so liveless and fake. The middle section was slightly better than the beginning, there was an ounce of truth to it, but then it nosedived again. Every complaint you've ever read about "millenial fiction"? This is it.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
650 reviews3,188 followers
October 16, 2020
Multiple friends of mine who’ve read Sally Rooney’s phenomenally popular novel “Normal People” have asked me for suggestions of what they can read that is “just like Normal People”. I think “Exciting Times” by Naoise Dolan might be the answer. Of course, to say that this debut novel is “just like” Normal People does a disservice to the originality of Dolan’s tale and the uniqueness of the authorial voice. But there are several similarities. It’s a contemporary novel about young people new to adulthood. Although it’s set in Hong Kong, it’s by an Irish author and the narrator is Ava, an Irish woman who moved there to teach English to rich children. There’s a difficult romance at the centre of the novel and a suspenseful element driving the story is about whether or not they’ll get together. Factors such as social class and money play into the tension of the central relationships. It concerns a lot of miscommunication or failed communication which is muddled by the medium of modern technology. It’s a poignant and oftentimes funny story. There’s also the fact that in the acknowledgements Dolan thanks Sally Rooney alongside a couple of other contemporary Irish writers. These aspects all mean that if I were an algorithm I’d offer up “Exciting Times” as an if you read and enjoyed Normal People suggested purchase. Thankfully, I’m not an algorithm so I have a bit more to say about what makes this novel great.

Read my full review of Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Hannah.
587 reviews1,047 followers
March 26, 2021
I love books about disaster women and unlike many of my bookish friends do not seem to tire of them at all. There is just something I really appreciate about women writing about women making terrible choices and being honest about that while they are doing it. It’s something I appreciate in memoirs and also in literary fiction. This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist includes quite a few of these disaster women books and I for one am really pleased with that. That said, I did not always love this book.

Told in first person from Ava’s perspective, the tone and voice worked exceedingly well for me in the beginning. Ava is awful, or at least she thinks so and the way in which she treats first Julian, a banker who quickly starts to finance her life, and then Edith a woman she starts a relationship with while omitting the fact that she regularly slept with her “roommate” aka Julian, seems to agree with her. When this book works, it really works for me. Dolan has a brilliant way of writing dialogue and especially the kind of hostile banter between Ava (a self-proclaimed socialist) and Julian (a lot closer to a Tory) was just mesmerizing. They spar and they bicker and they treat each other horribly – but somehow it works. My favourite parts of the book were when Dolan leans into this narrative.

On the other end of the spectrum is Edith – who is by all accounts wonderful and who makes Ava want to be a better person. Their relationship is definitely the more healthy one but I found it boring and I also could not help but brace for the inevitable shoe drop. I do not deal well with lying in books.

I want to briefly touch onto the comparison to Sally Rooney which I do not think does this book all that many favours; while there are similarities, I do think that Exciting Times excels in different areas. It is a lot more overtly political and more successful at that part; Dolan does seem to know a lot about political and economical theory in a way that really worked for me. The asides on language did not work as well for me as they did for other readers but they do add another layer to the class discussion Ava is always having in her head. What this book does not quite as well but I do think on purpose is the secondary characters; Ava is not really all that great at reading other people (or herself for that matter) in a way that fits with her character but made for sometimes flat love interests.

Overall, I did enjoy this and thought parts were absolutely brilliant – I will definitely read whatever Dolan decides to write next. I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough, it is narrated by the always great Aoife McMahon and gave this book the extra something I needed.

Content warnings: cheating, homophobia
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,390 reviews2,371 followers
March 25, 2021
Lots of reviews are making the Rooney 'millennial lit' comparison which is fair but I'd add Halle Butler and a whole host of recent books narrated by an alienated young woman with a deadpan voice who comments self-consciously on embedded power dynamics, privilege, gender and capitalism.

Some lines made me smirk, but most of this content feels repetitive, view-of-a-generation stuff. If this had been the first book I'd read from a trending sub-genre, I'd probably have rated it higher - as it was, I read this with a sense of familiarity and predictability.

Ottessa Moshfegh has done this with way more style and edginess, as well as a distinctive literary sensibility; and wasn't Esther Greenwood from Plath's The Bell Jar the original prototype of female disaffection?
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 53 books549 followers
February 17, 2020
This book is very clever and very busy being very clever making it tiring to read but being a millennial seems pretty exhausting so perhaps it’s captured a lived experience. The style is detached and detaching in an interesting way but if you like sinking teeth into a narrative this is not for you. I like cool detached styling, I like complex unlikeable protagonists, I like dissections of class, I like explorations of sexuality. But did I like Exciting Times? Not so much. And damn I wish I could figure out why exactly. I’ll update in the comments if I ever figure it out.
Profile Image for David.
233 reviews478 followers
May 27, 2021
I liked Exciting Times a lot more than the average GR reviewer. Ava, the narrator, is an Irish ex-pat living in Hong Kong. Her relationships are dysfunctional and we see her repeatedly make choices that we know (or think we know) are wrong for her. But real life is messy and people are messy, and this book dramatizes that in a way that rings profoundly true.
Profile Image for tee.
200 reviews249 followers
June 24, 2021
this book is insane because not only does the protagonist have the same birthday as me but also the male love interest has the same birthday as the man i didn't shut up about all of last year. anyway i picked this novel up solely because of the sally rooney comparisons and in the second chapter itself a sentence begins like “because i lacked warmth [...]” which reminded me of the quote in rooney's second novel that goes “[..] marianne lacks ‘warmth’, by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her.” what i will say in my measured judgement is that rooney's writing, especially considering normal people, is a million miles from this—the irish main characters in their early 20s making a bunch of bad romantic decisions and the simultaneously somewhat detached/distant and personal sense of writing are the conspicuous parallels. while both books pick up socio-political issues, naoise dolan lacks the elegance in describing ava's lack of self awareness regarding her privilege or the vaguely transactional nature of her sexual relationship with julian the way rooney handles the class difference between marianne and connell, or the examination of female sexual submissiveness in m/f relationships—among other things. there was also a bunch of racist stuff better explained in these two reviews.

that the discussions surrounding this book haven't focused on its a1 commentary on language is criminal because it is so well done and carries greater original weight than the romance. the first paragraph has the sentence “briefcase-bearers clopped out of turnstiles like breeding jennets,” which is an excellent example of the vocabulary used in the book, or better still, from chapter 18, “her accent was churchy, high-up, with all the cathedral drops of english intonation. button, water, tuesday – anything with two syllables zipped up then down like a gothic steeple. three-syllable words spread out like the spokes on an umbrella: ‘attaches’ became a-tach-iss. she said ‘completely’ a lot and usually dropped the ‘t’ in the middle.”

i will be thinking about how there is “something shakespearean about imperious men going down on you” for the rest of my life.
Profile Image for Katherine.
345 reviews143 followers
May 2, 2020
Do you marvel at clever sentence structure when encountered in a book? Do you take delight in words like "gormless"? Do you re-read witty comebacks to try and bake them into your mind should you ever need them? If you, like me, answered yes to all three of those questions, then you're in for a treat.

Exciting Times is a clever and biting story following Ava, a young woman in a foreign country trying to figure her life out - and maintain a semblance of coolness while doing so. It's also a story of girl-meets-boy, and girl-meets-girl, and girl-hides-boy-and-girl-from-each-other. It's a refreshing take on friendship and love, but also otherness, politics, and money (and power, which often mingles with money). Dolan's writing is funny and clever like a spark - despite their faults I found it hard not to love these characters.

Many are comparing her to Sally Rooney, and it's a fair comparison. Dolan has a knack for an expertly delivered wit amongst her characters. It's enough to make you envious of them, or of her for creating them. I was particularly fond of Ava's evolving relationship with Julian. Though Julian is possibly the most frustrating and cruel character in a lot of ways, they both struggled to be vulnerable with each other beyond the banter, which I found more interesting than Ava's relationship with Edith - even though I was rooting for the latter. These dynamics made for a refreshing (and complicated) new take on finding yourself through other people. Throughout all this it's clear that Ava is admired by the people around her, yet she's determined to see otherwise. She's her own unreliable narrator, and it's extremely relatable.

A strong and witty debut. I can't wait to see what Naoise Dolan does next. Also, her instagram is just as witty and fun as her debut. I followed her immediately.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Ecco!
Profile Image for Juan Naranjo.
Author 2 books2,241 followers
March 28, 2021
DÍAS APASIONANTES es una novela social (casi generacional) disfrazada de historia de amor. Es un libro en el que la protagonista está tan bien retratada y es tan cruda y llena de aristas que, realmente, casi da igual lo que le pase a ella personalmente, porque lo que te interesa como lector es su voz, su forma de ver el mundo y su forma de verse a sí misma. Por supuesto que la historia de esta joven irlandesa buscándose la vida como profesora de inglés en Hong Kong y tratando de sobrevivir a dos amores casi opuestos (aunque no tan diferentes) es maravillosa, sexy, exótica y fascinante, pero es que ese personaje protagonista está tan bien construido que el libro sería igual de interesante si no le pasase nada de todo lo extraordinario que le sucede.

Ava es uno de esos personajes que sintetiza a una generación. Es insoportable, cobarde, mentirosa, maniática y obsesiva. Pero también generosa, aventurera, apasionada y muy concienciadla política y socialmente. En ella conviven las contradicciones que encontramos en cualquiera de nosotros. La suya es una historia literaria vivida por un personaje humano. Hay capítulos en los que la matarías... y unas páginas después la perdonas porque probablemente tú habrías hecho lo mismo.

Su lucha contra la precariedad, sus ansias de ser coherente con sus convicciones, la seducción que le despierta un mundo que le resulta conceptualmente repulsivo, la aceptación de su propia sexualidad, la conciencia del propio privilegio mientras se lucha contra los privilegiados... son asuntos que en esta novela están tratados de una forma muy sutil, a menudo divertida. Naoise Dolan usa el lenguaje como un remo con el que empujarse contra el mundo, como una espada con la que defenderse de las dificultades, como una lupa con la que observar lo que le rodea. Esta autora me ha conquistado y quiero leer todo lo que venga después de este brillante debut.
Profile Image for Mizuki.
2,928 reviews1,163 followers
August 19, 2021
I have no love for a novel which only uses my home town as a colorful backdrop and doesn't give a shit about what is happening to the local people.

There are many expats who know Hong Kong and its history and cultures well, for crying out loud.

Some material for your thoughts: https://qz.com/2049655/nicole-kidmans...

The lives portrayed in the shows—which revolve around cocktail parties and the small bother of “managing the help“— also validate the perceived image of some expats in the eyes of local citizens: a bunch who are indifferent to the drastic political changes the place they reside is experiencing, as they always know they can leave the city when “the shit hits the fan,” as one US woman who lives in Hong Kong told the Financial Times in April.
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