Book review: Exciting Times: a novel by Naoise Dolan

I judge books by their covers because I believe publishing houses invest in good art for their best books. I’m a bit embarrassed I hadn’t noticed until now that two toothbrushes in a glass and one on the counter infers a love triangle in Exciting Times: a novel.

I’m not generally a sucker for love triangles, but I am for a chance glimpse into a world of the wealthy living abroad, and of millennials in general. I wonder what life is like outside the constraints of my perspective, which might explain why I’m a writer, and why any of us read anything.

I can understand why Naoise is touted as the next big deal. She’s in her twenties, studied literature at Oxford, and writes like a jaded middle-aged Irishwoman. She’s apparently the next Sally Rooney, who wrote Normal People and which I’m currently enjoying as a TV adaptation. I can hear what Sally and Naoise’s voice has in common: the acerbic dialogue, the ponderings, and the pervasive pessimism.

I can get behind a witty repartee of characters Ava, Julian and Edith. It reminds me of Nancy Mitford, whom I adore. I noted the callback to her in Exciting Times, when Ava off-handedly describes someone as three Mitford sisters under one fur coat (I’m paraphrasing.) While the dialogue and character observations about the patriarchy, classism, and the ridiculousness of the English language are entertaining and thought-provoking, I longed for the silliness of Nancy’s characters, and wished Ava would take more of an interest in her life, or at least explain why she doesn’t in a way that makes her more sympathetic. That may be a bit unrealistic though. As a former English teacher in Korea, the humdrum of teaching children the inanities of our language drained me of the will to care about much of anything beyond getting to the weekend.

I agree with Hilary Mantel’s endorsement, that this book is “Droll, shrewd, and unafraid — a winning debut.”

Questions you can steal for your book club:

Because Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan is an ‘important book’ at the moment, it may pop up in your book club list this year. Here are some questions just in case you don’t read the book or don’t finish it before your book club meeting.

  • How does Ava’s ambivalence toward money tie into her perspective vis a vis the patriarchy? How does that perspective influence her character’s actions?
  • Does one read this book automatically assuming that Ava is free of any neurological or mental health concerns? Is it possible that her straightforwardness is linked with the autism spectrum disorder?
  • Who would you rather — Julian or Edith? (Save this for after the second bottle of wine is opened. Come on, isn’t this the point of book club?)

Get your copy of Exciting Times: a novel today at one of these booksellers:

Get it on Apple Books
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.