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.
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.