Naoise Dolan dissects the personal and financial transactions that make up a life, in her debut novel. When 21 year-old Ava leaves Ireland to teach English in Hong Kong, she casually gets together with Julian, an Eton educated banker. While Julian is away, Ava slowly falls for Edith, a lawyer. Feelings flower all over the place, for Edith—but, confusingly, also for Julian.
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.