Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

Happy Saturday! As always, it’s book review today, and today I’m actually reviewing a fairly new release! Me, getting to new releases? Shocking, I know. Today, I’m talking about Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. I was very happily surprised when reading this to find that it’s actually a sapphic book. This book features one character who identifies as a lesbian, and another who doesn’t explicitly label her sexuality in the book, but is attracted to both men and women. It’s by an Irish author, and the protagonist is also Irish, but she is working in Hong Kong, teaching English as a foreign language.

We first meet Ava, our protagonist, in July. She has recently moved to Hong Kong, and is living in shared accommodation with fellow TEFL teachers. Pretty soon, her banker friend (and really, only friend) Julian has invited her to live with him. I found Julian an interesting character. He enjoys spending money on Ava, and allows her to live with him, but isn’t interested in a romantic relationship with her. The pair do have a casual relationship, which always feels unbalanced. The precarious dynamic between Julian and Ava is really interesting to explore. Ava is unable to express her feelings in an honest way for fear of ruining the relationship and potentially losing her home. I felt a lot for Ava here, because she and Julian are living basically as a cohabiting couple, but the lack of commitment meant Julian would leave for extended periods at short notice. Julian never seemed to consider Ava’s feelings, but less in the sense that he didn’t care about her, but more in the sense that he didn’t think she would care, so it wasn’t something he had to consider.

The first section of Exciting Times is mostly taken up by Ava and Julian’s growing relationship and their dynamic. The second part takes place while Julian is away, and Ava starts to finally find a life in Hong Kong without relying on Julian for social interaction. It’s in the second part of the book that I started to get more of a feeling for the setting, but I didn’t really feel as though it was as fleshed out as it could have been. Yes, the characters talk about being in Hong Kong a lot, but it didn’t have the busy city feeling I’d expect from the setting. What I did really get a feel for in this book, however, was the class divide in Hong Kong. We have Julian, and the new friend Ava makes while he is away, Esther, and then most of the other characters. Both Julian and Esther have well-paying jobs, and are always flashing money. Ava and the other TEFL teachers, however, have a very low income, and most of their money goes on rent and clubbing (except in Ava’s case, as she lives with Julian rent-free, and tends to use his credit card for partying). There’s also scenes with Esther’s family that give a sense of what it’s like to live in Hong Kong as a wealthier family. The political element of this book is really interesting, because Ava is an outspoken leftist who spends the first part of the book almost solely in the company of conservative bankers. Esther, however, shares more of Ava’s views, which was also interesting contrasted with her family background.

I really loved the sapphic relationship in this book. I don’t want to give too much away, but it was really well-written, and I was rooting for them to work through the issues they face and pull through. Like I said, I didn’t realise that this book had sapphic representation when I picked it up, let alone biracial sapphic representation! I do wish that the non-lesbian character in the relationship had had a chance to label her sexuality, because while labels definitely aren’t everything, it’s so rare to see the word “bisexual” in books, and even rarer to find “pansexual”, so it would have been nice to have an acknowledgement of one of the lesser represented sexual orientations. I am aware that’s a bit nitpicky, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book in any way.

Naoise Dolan also shows a real talent for writing throughout this book. Her prose flows really well, and her characters are all engaging and well-developed. Even the characters like Julian, who I would probably hate if I met in person, were enjoyable to read, and I’m very glad to see that on her website she states that she is working on a second novel! For a debut novel, this is some really good writing, and I’m excited to see what she does next. I’m not sure how old she is, but I think she’s only mid-late twenties, so I can’t wait to see how her writing continues to mature and develop over the course of her career. One to watch for sure!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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11 thoughts on “Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan: Review & Recommend | LATEST RELEASES

  1. I loved this book, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it! I think it had a very unusual feel to it, and it was unlike anything I’d read in a while. However, I wasn’t a fan of the lesbian relationship depicted in the book, as I didn’t think Ava really matched well with her partner. However, I loved the surprise lesbian representation in the book and I’m really happy I tried this new release 🙂

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  2. […] Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan. 4 stars.I’d heard mixed things about this book, but on the whole, I enjoyed it. And, bisexual representation that I wasn’t expecting is always a pleasant surprise, especially in F/F February! I love Irish literature generally, and I definitely think Naoise Dolan is a writer to watch. I think she’s still really young, so I am definitely excited to see where her career goes. You can find my review here. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Exciting Times – Naoise DolanA new Irish novelist, Naoise Dolan’s work really impressed me. It features a lesbian and a bisexual character, both in prominent roles within the book, which I didn’t know before reading it, so that was an exciting (haha) surprise. It also had a political slant that I really enjoyed reading, and I do it reaches a wider audience. It has had mixed feedback from what I’ve read, but I’m definitely one of the people championing it. My review is here. […]

    Liked by 1 person

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