Review: Exciting Times
‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan.
A review by Megan Robinson.
Exciting Times is a Sunday Times bestseller and made the longlist for the Women’s Fiction Prize 2021. We follow Ava, a 22-year-old from Ireland, who moves to Hong Kong to ‘find herself.’ The novel is split into three parts entitled ‘Julian’, ‘Edith’ and ‘Edith and Julian’ people who are important to Ava and affect her life in different ways. It is a tale of money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections.
This is Naoise Dolan’s debut book and I must say, I am a fan of her writing style; it almost reminds me of Haruki Murakami’s in the sense that it perfectly captures Ava’s whirlwind of thoughts down to every last detail that you can sometimes find yourself re-reading sentences to take everything in. It’s also clear from this style of writing that Ava suffers from a form of anxiety and made the novel much more relatable to me (being a 22-year-old with anxiety.) I love novels that are mostly internal monologues and thoughts, I think that it helps the reader become the protagonist and understand the world from their viewpoint, and Exciting Times is one of those novels.
I don’t know whether I just didn’t pay attention properly or if it wasn’t stated for a while but at first, I thought Julian was Asian, not white and British. This didn’t affect the novel for me in any way, just wanted to mention this to see if anyone else thought this also. Ava’s relationship with Julian compared to Edith is noticeably different but also very similar. Ava is obsessed with both of them, but around Julian, she feels terrible about herself, constantly questioning the things she says and does and Julian won’t commit, even when she is living in his spare room and they are having frequent sex. With Edith, Ava still second guesses herself but she feels more comfortable and confident around her, Edith is clear what kind of relationship she wants with Ava and Ava feels heard by her. It may seem that Julian and Edith are completely different, so it is strange why Ava would be attracted to these very two different people but they are more similar than they may initially appear to be. Firstly, they both work in high paying jobs and come from middle/upper-class families. They also are constantly trying to get Ava to get a better job and decide what she wants to do with her life, granted they go about it in different ways (Julian being more laid back about it, and Edith pushing her.) Ava does state in the novel that she usually does tend to be attracted to people from generational wealth since she comes from a poor family, but I do think it is ironic/typical of Julian and Edith to act like it should be easy for Ava to find her own place/get a better job when they don’t recognise or acknowledge the fact that it’s not so easy for her as it was them. Perhaps this was an intentional move by Dolan, to have these upper-class perfect people recognise that they come from wealth but oblivious to the fact that Ava does not and therefore doesn’t have the same opportunities as her. Julian seems to be more aware of Ava’s situation (which is why he offers to let her move in but he is still oblivious to how much Ava depends on his money) but Edith does not, as she constantly pushes Ava to move out of Julian’s and find her own place on her very poor salary. The novel has an open ending, it is up to the reader to decide if she follows through with moving to Europe with Julian or stays behind in Hong Kong to work things through with Edith. In the past I would’ve hated this open ending, I would want to know the answer, but as I have gotten older and read more novels with open endings, I have a deeper appreciation for them, and I think this open ending works really well.
In conclusion, Exciting Times is an exceptional debut novel about the struggles of young adulthood, finding yourself and the complications of love. Although the language can sometimes get confusing, it is a beautifully written novel and I can see why it was longlisted for the Women’s Fiction Prize List 2021.
Review by Megan.