The arch title of Naoise Dolan’s whipsmart debut novel, Exciting Times, is the first indicator of the author’s style ... The voice is astute, sardonic and highly emotionally aware. The exciting times mainly take place inside her head, where a vast, neurotic mind constantly analyses her own behaviour and second-guesses the actions of others ... Exciting Times is an impressive, cerebral debut written with brio and humour ... There are strong parallels with the intelligent female narrators in the writing of Nicole Flattery and Sally Rooney ... The self-aware commentary...over-reaches at times ... but it is a minor criticism of a debut that is as intricate as it is brash, with a style that is charmingly belligerent from start to finish ... The observations are keen, heartfelt and delivered in a brutally nonchalant style ... For a novel that spends most of its time inside the protagonist’s head, it is a surprisingly exciting read, heralding for sure a new star in Irish writing.
Dolan has a wonderfully intuitive and fluid handle on Ava, a young person who equates adulthood with moral imperfection and who finds herself disgusted and beguiled by both ... an examination of sex, queerness, self-sabotage, power, and privilege. Its milieu is young and left-leaning, and its tone is dry, sharp, and cerebral ... Believe me when I say that I did not want to make this review all about Rooney. But imitation is part of Exciting Times ’s virtuosity. Deadpan prose punctuated by similes? Check ... Exquisitely precise observations about social dynamics? Check ... Dolan, like Rooney, conjures her protagonists in a few selective strokes—an effect that bewitches, at first, but the characters don’t linger afterward, and they seem mostly defined by the impression they make on others. Most important, Dolan follows Rooney into the jaws of the reflexivity trap ... Dolan’s engagement with politics feels at least as superficial ... One could even argue that Dolan’s own socialist leanings—her grasp of how grinding and impossible the system can be—inform her depiction of characters with untenable ideological commitments. But those commitments, and others, never feel real on the page; they feel like credentials, and if a character acts against them he or she is dutifully redeemed by self-awareness. ... If Dolan considers the ego affirmation that powers Ava and Julian’s relationship to be hollow, even toxic, then why spend so much time evoking characters who long to befriend, sleep with, or—in the case of a jealous rival—usurp her protagonist? ... As entertaining as Dolan can be, the world of the book feels rigged, as if its purpose were to produce an outcome that maximally flatters its protagonists ... What does it mean to write a coming-of-age novel when a character’s life is predestined? These books, so reluctant to engage with change, agency, and suffering, turn instead to awareness, which they frame as atonement.
Enter Edith, a brilliant, beautiful young Chinese lawyer whose sophisticated presence attracts Ava immediately. Sadly, Dolan does not develop Edith as a character—are we supposed to intuit what makes Ava so interesting to her? Yet the crackling heat Ava feels for Edith is palpable ... Dolan’s real concern: The things we do to stave off being left alone. It is that dive into human consciousness that separates Dolan from the countrywoman to whom she is often compared, novelist Sally Rooney ... While both writers deal with class—offering cutting observations—Dolan pushes further to confront why we put up with it in the first place.
Though this model of relationship-as-power-struggle is hardly new, Dolan brings a fresh 21st-century sensibility to it ... Dolan writes in a deadpan style. Sentences are short. Aperçus are withering. Emotions are dealt with baldly, dryly ... caustic wit ... An entire novel in this vein might become wearing, but Dolan takes her narrative to a new level ... Dolan skilfully reveals to us how Ava’s choices are all made with self-protection in mind ... It’s not easy to sustain interest in someone so relentlessly floundering for self-knowledge, and the book flags once Ava and Edith are together. That’s partly because Edith herself is only lightly sketched in ... This gives the novel a strangely solipsistic feel, like a hall of mirrors, where every attempt to gaze outward is met only by your own face. Ava is an accurately drawn emblem of the zeitgeist, but as such, she stands apart from it, isolated ... There are intimate moments here, even if they do occur at one remove. Nolan does a brilliant job of harnessing technology to her story, specifically the phone.
Watching Ava...results in an enterprise that is not much diversified by event. But in Dolan’s stimulating company, which carries something of the quality of friendship, this relatively static spectacle meets the reader as a blizzard of mordant exuberance. Much of the pleasure she brings to the page can be attributed to her linguistic sensitivity, and to an aptitude for comedy that operates by virtue of the nature of her perceptions ... Writing of this quality carries moral, as well as aesthetic, weight, and allows Dolan’s preoccupations to inhabit her prose instead of being addressed by it ... At times, Dolan can flag, and her style is occasionally dented by unnecessarily mannered constructions ('material lucre') and overemphases. But the prevailing experience of her endeavor is one of invigoration. Exciting Times is a work of phenomenal acuity and vehemence that, in the freshness of its apprehensions and the authority of its voice, is edifying, funny, tender, plangent and rich with the sensibility of an individual who, condemned to conditions that are not of her making, finds the space that she needs to take flight, and who proceeds as the person she was.
Ava’s self-hatred is frustrating, but it means that she makes bad decisions, which in turn provide much of the novel’s suspense ... While working as an English teacher, Ava becomes intrigued by the subjunctive form, which the novel itself seems to mimic; Ava is constantly wondering what would happen were she to tell Edith/Julian her true feelings. Part of me wishes she’d sent more of the text messages she drafts, if only to drive the plot. But the author’s commitment to the authenticity of her characters would never allow that, which means that, despite its title, if you’re looking for an exciting story, you won’t get it. That said, if you want a well-drawn, often funny portrait of a brooding twentysomething, Dolan does it beautifully.
Dolan’s portrayal of people in their twenties is pretty spot-on ... a sad, yet hopeful coming of age story set in a Hong Kong immediately recognizable to the many expats like Julian, Ava and globalized locals like Edith who end up there. Omnipresent yet subtle, Hong Kong doesn’t overshadow the characters and their struggles in trying to figure out life.
Already drawing comparisons to Sally Rooney’s work, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, has many of the familiar tropes of the 'millennial novel' covered: Jealousy and obsession, love and late capitalism, sex and the internet all come whirling together in a wry and bracing tale of class and privilege ... Ava is hyper-verbal and exacting, and Dolan’s writing excels when Ava turns her analytical eye on the intersections between English syntax, zeitgeist technology and interpersonal relationships ... Dolan captures perfectly the nauseating insecurity of growing up today ... The novel is shot through with moments of...startling self-awareness ... Unfortunately, Dolan’s superficial evocation of [Hong Kong] is conjured mostly through Instagram latte art geotagged on fashionable streets. The actual experiences of local people her age have no effect whatsoever on Ava, the details of their lives mentioned, by the author, only in passing. Absent the textures of a real city that is sharply divided along generational, ideological and class lines, Dolan’s novel could have taken place in any other major Asian metropolis ... Those who’ve spent time in Hong Kong can’t help wondering what it’s like to be among the Anglophone transplants who work and party there. Are they as insensitive and indifferent as they seem to the foreign city they call home? The answer Exciting Times seems to offer is yes, in this case they are just as shallow and myopic as one would assume.
... in a book filled with such terse and intelligent writing, I feared...off-the-cuff virtue signaling would characterize the entirety of Dolan’s novel. Indeed, the book is populated by...quips meant to signal the protagonist’s own self-awareness. In an effort to capture millennial ennui, Dolan frequently takes a disaffected tone, holding her protagonist, and her leftist politics, at a distance. These performative one-liners notwithstanding, Dolan is at her best when she chooses to closely engage with questions of language, and the ways one’s linguistic identity is transformed when living as an expatriate ... Snarky exchanges...offer a wonderful, and necessary, respite from the neutral tone Ava often assumes ... Dolan’s work could benefit from a commitment to more intentionally exploring the ideological conflicts that make millennial relationships so messy and complex. Frequently, for example, I wished that Dolan would interrogate the question of Ava’s racial privilege, especially relative to Edith, with the same depth that she applies to the study of language ... Dolan’s greatest strength is her ability to capture the loneliness and perplexity of living as an expatriate ... a promising, if imperfect, update on the expat novel and quietly reminds us of everything this genre can be.
... there is nothing been-there-read-that about Nolan’s dazzling debut ... Dolan’s writing is precise, acerbic and enviably good, and her characters are perfectly drawn. Ava’s casual stream-of-consciousness often has a delicious sting in the tail ... Besides class and wealth, the legacy of Ireland’s medieval restriction on abortion looms large (the book is set before it removed the constitutional ban on abortion in 2018). The novel is also interested in language and shifting meanings ... A sharp, assured debut[.]
In fewer than 250 pages, the 28-year-old has captured the touchstone millennial tension between sardonicism and sincerity—the electric ambivalence of figuring out how to be a person in these times ... Exciting Times is a funny novel (both haha and weird), resisting the pull of melodrama in favor of a sharp point of view and an intense concern with language ... In many cases these dissections are clear-eyed and vivifying, arriving at a deeper set of emotional meanings. At their best, such moments elevate the book from a tale of amorous hijinks into something more nuanced. In other cases, it can feel as if the author has sashayed in to perform a high-wire act of semiotics—which not only hinders the narrative flow but risks alienating the reader, even as it reinforces Ava’s neuroticism and insecurity ... That tangle of revulsion and attraction to Ava’s perpetual ambivalence—and the accompanying desire to reach out from this side of the looking glass and gently assure her this is simply a condition of being human—is one reason to keep reading.
I’m sorry. I really am. I know it’s frustrating that any new young female writer must find themselves compared to Sally Rooney ... But on this occasion, it’s more than just a question of biography: Dolan’s writing does genuinely occupy similar territory. There’s a certain dry, almost deadpan quality in her observation of the lives of her twentysomething characters – the complications of attraction, and the gap between what’s felt and what’s spoken; calmly articulated self-loathing, and precise capturing of class differences – that both authors nail down dead ... So lucky us, really. Exciting Times is a fun, snappy read – ordinarily, I’d say its short chapters could be torn through on your commute, but it’ll brighten lockdown too ... Exciting Times is very funny in its cool observation and the way it takes us inside Ava’s spirals of overthinking. Dolan’s writing is extremely sharp – both cutting and tart – but there are places where it feels overly cynical ... Dolan seasons the novel with insights about class, gender, race, colonialism, and language, though the result does not always bring depth of flavour. The most insightful – and raw – of these are the caustic observations about Ireland’s repressive attitudes to homosexuality and abortionand how they damage individual lives ... It all adds up to a bracing, refreshing first novel, with hints of greater things to come.
... [an] incisive and funny debut ... The...bold, sardonic narrative voice is original and, at times, irresistible. In a world that lately seems to have gone mad, her characters’ conundrums make perfect sense ... This is a sharp-eyed novel that tackles serious ideas ... Which isn’t to suggest that Dolan’s dialogue or characters are leaden. Ava’s clashing impulses make for an engrossing story line, and her observations capture the world-weariness of a generation that’s never known life without the internet ... Dolan’s novel—wry and jaded, yet sometimes hopeful—understands this volatile era.
It feels right that Irish novelist Naoise Dolan has appropriated part of that co-opted, mangled aphorism for her first book’s title ... Dolan's real concern: the things we do to stave off being left alone. It is that dive into human consciousness that separates Dolan from the countrywoman to whom she is often compared, novelist Sally Rooney (Normal People). While both writers deal with class — offering cutting observations — Dolan pushes further to confront why we put up with it in the first place.
With Naoise Dolan’s debut novel...we return to contemporary fiction’s irony-industrial complex ... Being a detached, acerbic, amoral smartass is a powerful kind of currency in the world of commitment-phobic businessmen, and Ms. Dolan is funny and touching about the internal drama of shedding a miserable identity that yields material rewards for something as incommensurable as love. The novel’s limitations are most apparent in the hasty ending: Since sarcasm is what it does best, it isn’t quite willing to risk going for long without it.
...[a] delightfully sardonic, insightful debut ... Overall, this surprising novel is believable and piercingly written, with many hilarious lines, such as when Ava wonders if a nasty English character is 'a real person or three Mitford sisters in a long coat.' For fans of Rachel Khong’s Goodbye, Vitamin.
Ava—who has struggled throughout the novel to be vulnerable in often maddening ways—must make a decision: live comfortably or live truthfully. Politics, class, and race anxiously hover over the entire novel ... Dolan’s preoccupation with power is often couched in humor but always expertly observed. Her elegantly simple writing allows her ideas and musings to shine ... A refreshingly wry and insightful debut.