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3.25 stars I felt I had hitherto woefully misdirected my energies in attempting to cultivate a personality If you didn t have one then that left room for everyone else s As with many hyped new releases Exciting Times wasn t all it was cracked up to be With so many professional reviewers hailing Exciting Times as one of the best debut novels of 2020, praising Naoise Dolan for her wit and her razor sharp social commentary, or describing her book as being a droll, shrewd and unafraid , this promised to be an intelligent and compelling read Sadly, while part of me rejoiced at the sight of quotations marks yes, I m looking at you Sally Rooney , I soon found myself wondering where the wit I was promised was in case you are wondering, largely MIA Exciting Times is an innocuous debut novel It follows the tradition of the alienated young woman, which has regained traction over the past years, in no small part thanks to Ottessa Moshfegh s My Year of Rest and Relaxation The women who populate these novels have a lot in common with Esther Greenwood, who is perhaps the supreme example of the alienated female narrator then again I think this title should go to Natalie Waite from Shirley Jackson s Hangsaman Ava, the protagonist of Dolan s novel, is far less morbid than Plath s or Moshfegh s narrators Her alienation comes across as a phase of sorts, something she could easily overcome Still, Ava s millennial despondency makes her prone to bouts of lethargy and ennui The trouble with my body was that I had to carry it around with me At 22 Ava decides to leave Dublin behind and move to Hong Kong where she ends up teaching English grammar Because she didn t like herself in Ireland she believes that a change of scenery will either improve her personality or the way she sees herself In Hong Kong Ava makes few attempts at socialising with her colleagues or her roommates, and it is only when she meets Julian, a banker, that she begins to be interested in someone other than herself The two form a bond of sorts, which sees them occasionally sparring about the fraught history between Britain and Ireland, while for the most part they seem content with being cynical together Soon enough Ava moves into Julian s guest bedroom While he s back in England Ava meets and falls for Edith who, unlike Julian, openly reciprocates her feelings Keeping up with both of them took work, but their similarities lent the enterprise a certain economy of scale The plot as such sees Ava obsessing about either Julian or Edith, checking their Instagram accounts, over analysing their texts, and attributing a special meaning to everything they say or do.In passing she talks with others about class, race, abortion But these topics are briefly mentioned, and for the most part Exciting Times is about Ava s detachment from others In a certain way I can see why this novel could appeal to fans of Rooney as the narrative is very much focused on creating and maintaining an aesthetic of detachment Ava is all about the conceal don t feel She feels wrong , bad , damaged , messed up , different from other people you get the gist While this is in part intentional, and both Julian and Edith call her out on the woe is me act, the novel perpetuates this she s different by casually reminding us that she has a right to feel ostracised given that once a girl in school was homophobic towards her Personally I don t think that just because she spends large portions of her time daydreaming, envisioning what ifs scenarios, or wondering how others see her, she s actually different The novel is so focused on being clever that it ends up not having anything substantial to offer.Ava s alleged aloofness seemed an excuse for her character not to have a personality One of my favourite literary characters is Charlotte Bronte s Lucy Snowe, someone who is aloof, distant, occasionally manipulative, and who hides her feelings from the reader In spite of this we do see glimpses of her emotions Ava instead just tells us that she loves hates someoneand I just didn t feel it If anything she was infatuated with the idea of lovewhich brings me to the ending Are we meant to believe that there was any character growth on her part Cause I don t Much was made of the power dynamics between her and Julian Ava plays her own violin insisting that if she were to end things with Julian she would have to find a crammy roomand I m meant to feel sorry for the circumstances she s in She is employed, and earns far than others, and has enough savings to leave Julian s apartment or make a small contribution Yet, her dilemma is made into this big thing.Lastly, in the novel Hong Kong is a mere cardboard backdrop for Ava s existentialist crisis The story could have been set in any city outside of Ireland and it would barely need changing Mentioning Hong Kong s political unrest now and again was not enough.Some positivesJulian and Edith, although not strictly likeable, felt much like well rounded people I couldn t see why they were both interested in Ava given how self involved she was Dolan has a knack for dialogues They are extremely realistic at times the characters talk about nothing, misunderstand each other, use the wrong words to express what they feelher back and forths, or banter, between certain characters was fairly engaging.Most of all I loved the way Dolan writes about the English language Ava is attentive when it comes to English She often questions people s word choices We discussed whether the word quite magnified or diminished a compliment I sketched a cline on a napkin and put quite between a little and very and, given her teaching position, she also reprimands herself for using bad English Dolan rendition of different intonations and accents is evocative Her accent was churchy, high up, with all the cathedral drops of English intonation Button, water, Tuesday anything with two syllables zipped up then down like a Gothic steeple My favourite passages were the ones that focused on language and the ones describing a person s pronunciation or words choices Ava does share some genuinely clever insights about the English language or modern methods of communications For example I particularly liked the way she describes texts We chose what to share Through composition I reduced my life, burned fat, filed edges The editing process let me veto post hoc the painful, boring or irrelevant moments I lived through OverallAs I ve said before, this was an inoffensive novel It wasn t thought provoking or half as witty as it tried to be but it isn t badly written I was hoping perhaps for a less glib take on alienation or a complex interrogation of power dynamics and gender. Armed with her freshly minted degree, Ava has left Dublin for Hong Kong in order to find herself discovers she is unemployable for anything other than teaching English in a posh school to rich kids What follows is an examination of a life in transition, of a young woman not totally sure of her place or potential, her sexual identity, or even her ability to be attractive to her peers Naoise Dolan is a writer of wit and talent with an ear for sparkling dialogue, and an ability to create characters that a reader can laugh with even when they are breaking one s heart This book is straight out of Sally Rooney land, in which millennials explain themselves to those of us who struggle to understand their culture Well done. 2.5 starsSo dreary definitely not exciting Exciting Times is told from Ava s perspective Ava is an Irish expat living in Hong Kong, where she teaches English The story focuses on Ava s inner tortured thoughts and feelings as she feels the pull between relationships with English expat banker Julian and local lawyer Edith Ava does all the wrong things She can t commit to the one she loves and she sticks to the one she knows treats her poorly It s well written but I have no patience right now for self absorbed self loathing I think I m also probably a bit too old to relate to these characters sensibilities It took me way too long to read this relatively short book because my attention was easily diverted by other things As I say, it s well written so I may simply be the wrong audience or this might be the wrong time Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy. I finished Exciting Times last night and I am still trying to process my feelings about it this morning It may well be one of those books that I grow to like over time It certainly was a different take a on a love triangle that is for sure The characters in this story are not the most likeable The 3 main characters are all a bit pretentious and self absorbed It was frustrating at times Overall though the story was interesting and funny but I did want to slapped all at one point or another.Ava is from Ireland and has travelled to Hong Kong to work She is teaching rich children English and struggling to make friends and to live on her wages When she meets Julian, an English banker with money, a strange sort of relationship forms It is not clear that they even like each other much but Ava ends up as his roommate with added benefits He likes spending his money on her and she likes being rent free When Julian goes back to England for a few months with work Ava is again lonely She meets Edith, a Hong Kong born lawyer who again has money Their relationship develops into than just friendship as well What will she do when Julian returns Thanks to Hachette Australia for my copy of this book to read. This book is very clever and very busy being very clever making it tiring to read but being a millennial seems pretty exhausting so perhaps it s captured a lived experience The style is detached and detaching in an interesting way but if you like sinking teeth into a narrative this is not for you I like cool detached styling, I like complex unlikeable protagonists, I like dissections of class, I like explorations of sexuality But did I like Exciting Times Not so much And damn I wish I could figure out why exactly I ll update in the comments if I ever figure it out. Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with an e ARC of this via EdelweissExciting Times is, in many ways, an insular novel, not unlike its main character Ava and her contracted social world It s set in Hong Kong, one of the most sprawling cities in the world, and yet the narrative does not unfurl along this sprawling landscape Instead, it occupies a very specific space, the space that Ava carves out with the two other main characters of this novel Julian and Edith Given this, it s not surprising that this is a novel that is also extremely invested in the complex interplay between race, nationality, class, and gender among others that underpins its characters relationships Ava is particularly attuned to the subtleties and implications of this interplay, though that doesn t necessarily mean she is always right in her observations, or that she always acts in accordance with them.And to address the literary elephant in the room yes, I see the Sally Rooney comparisons Where they primarily stem from, I think, is the social investment that these authors so consciously and consistently bring to their novels Their characters do not take their social worlds for granted and so question and try to peel back what assumptions about power, race, gender, class, etc operate under what circumstances and in what ways in those social worlds That being said, where I think this novel fell short for me, and where Rooney s novels do not fall short for me, is in its lack of feeling Ava thinks a lot about her emotions, but I rarely got to see her actually feel them when those moments came, they were few and far between Now, I understand that Ava is not a character who is particularly forthcoming with her emotions, but still, I don t think that precludes her from displaying emotion I find characters thinking about their thoughts and emotions interesting enough, but that interest only goes so far I need to see these characters be vulnerable, elated, gutted, in subtle or not so subtle ways Put another way, I need to feel like there are emotional stakes that the characters feel as well as understand.Still, Exciting Times is a well observed novel that takes care to highlight the complex web of identities that relationships inevitably bring with them. An Intimate, Bracingly Intelligent Debut Novel About A Millennial Irish Expat Who Becomes Entangled In A Love Triangle With A Male Banker And A Female LawyerAva Moved To Hong Kong To Find Happiness, But So Far, It Isn T Working Out Since She Left Dublin, She S Been Spending Her Days Teaching English To Rich Children She S Been Assigned The Grammar Classes Because She Lacks Warmth And Her Nights Avoiding Petulant Roommates In Her Cramped ApartmentWhen Ava Befriends Julian, A Witty British Banker, He Offers A Shortcut Into A Lavish Life Her Meager Salary Could Never Allow Ignoring Her Feminist Leanings And Her Better Instincts, Ava Finds Herself Moving Into Julian S Apartment, Letting Him Buy Her Clothes, And, Eventually, Striking Up A Sexual Relationship With Him When Julian S Job Takes Him Back To London, She Stays Put, Unsure Where Their Relationship StandsEnter Edith A Hong Kong Born Lawyer, Striking And Ambitious, Edith Takes Ava To The Theater And Leaves Her Tulips In The Hallway Ava Wants To Be Her And Wants Her Ava Has Been Carefully Pretending That Julian Is Nothing Than An Absentee Roommate, So When Julian Announces That He S Returning To Hong Kong, She Faces A Fork In The Road Should She Return To The Easy Compatibility Of Her Life With Julian Or Take A Leap Into The Unknown With Edith Politically Alert, Heartbreakingly Raw, And Dryly Funny, Exciting Times Is Thrillingly Attuned To The Great Freedoms And Greater Uncertainties Of Modern Love In Stylish, Uncluttered Prose, Naoise Dolan Dissects The Personal And Financial Transactions That Make Up A Life And Announces Herself As A Singular New Voice this is just really fantastic. I received an eARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.I really enjoyed the dry and cynical main character, a bit unlikable from the way she always makes poor decisions but also relatable for it I think this would ve been a 5 star read if it had a bit emotional impact, but for most of the book the stakes felt rather low Still, I m glad to have picked this up and I m excited to see what the author writes in the future Full review at I received this book from Hachette Ireland in exchange for an honest review.Ava is a young Irish woman teaching English in Hong Kong when she falls into a relationship with a wealthy English banker called Julian As Ava tries to establish what she and Julian even are to one another as she moves into his spare bedroom rent free, Julian leaves Hong Kong for six months and Ava meets Edith Edith brings something else into Ava s life but as she begins to fall in love with the Asian born lawyer, Julian texts to say he s coming back.This is a really interesting novel full of some really interesting self analysing moments from the main character Ava as she dissects her life, how she fits in with everyone around her and tries to make her life in Hong Kong work all with a slightly dispassionate air to her.I found Ava as a character a hard one to pin down There were moments I felt like I could relate to and other times I felt like she really pushed the reader away from understanding her There was definitely a level of detachment around Ava that I ve seen other reviewers describe as cold, and I have to agree that sometimes Ava looked upon things in a clinical manner or in a way where she seemed to want something like a relationship with Julian because it s what she should want and it would be the piece that fit into the jigsaw of life.I don t know hardly anything about Hong Kong and I definitely didn t get a lot knowledge from this book but I still enjoyed the different surroundings than what you get in other books normally set in the UK or US Ava s struggles in teaching British English to her students were also funny to read as Irish English can be so much different and the bits Ava pointed out were amusing While I say this, this book isn t a really funny book It didn t really make me smile or laugh when reading it but there is still a wry humour attached with could just be the Irish sarcasm that s heavily laid into everything Ava does and says.I enjoyed my time bouncing between my thoughts on Ava and Julian, and Ava and Edith, and the different person she was with each of them, and the whole person she became when they were all three together I liked both love interests and could see who Ava needed, though I think Ava wanted the best of both worlds.In a way, Ava is almost a kept woman in this book in that she is having a sexual relationship with Julian, and living rent free in his apartment and has his cards at her disposal but there s nothing crude about them when they re together.This book will definitely receive Sally Rooney comparisons and while they are a little bit similar, I feel like there is enough of a difference that Naoise Dolan will continue to develop a really strong writing voice that is already evident in her debut novel.