Book Review: Naoise Dolan’s writing is witty, sharp and an accomplished novel

Ava has left Dublin in order find the eponymous Exciting Times; she’s working in Hong Kong as an English teacher.

By Rosie Carnall
Sunday, 5th December 2021, 8:13 pm

It’s hard graft and she’s at risk of getting a urinary infection because the school prioritises the students getting their full 60 minutes of lesson time ahead of scheduling teacher comfort breaks.

The role is inherently paradoxical for her, caught between the language of her native Irish-English speech and the required grammar of English-English that she must teach.

Naoise Dolan makes witty use of the grammar lessons to express her heroine’s inner life, in some neat set pieces that I enjoyed tremendously.

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Rosie Carnall.

The twelve-year-olds were on the perfect aspect, God love them. They had just got to grips with the past tense, and the continuous would be next – if they survived.

Ava isn’t comfortable as an enforcer of the required grammatical forms and pronunciation of an overbearing dominant culture.

She’s an outsider on every level, including to herself, and has got away from home to find out more about where she fits and what she wants.

I’d been sad in Dublin, decided it was Dublin’s fault, and thought Hong Kong would help.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan.

She falls into a relationship with an English banker which is pragmatically advantageous but lacking in emotional connection.

Julian had gone to Eton and was an only child.

These were the two least surprising facts anyone had ever told me about themselves.

It’s while he’s away for work for several months, that Ava develops a relationship with Edith Zhang Mei Ling, a Cambridge educated Hong Kong lawyer.

This relationship challenges Ava and pushes her into taking risks she’s not comfortable with, risks that will ultimately make or break her sense of self and independence.

The novel explores core themes of adulthood - politics, belonging, work and sexuality – in light, dry tones. Dolan’s sentences are short, clear and beautifully formed.

She’s clever with unsent text messages as a form of soliloquy.

Dolan’s writing is witty and sharp, and this an accomplished novel with insightful views on contemporary international life.

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