Review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Exciting Times is the story of Ava, a twenty-two year old university graduate with no money and even less self-esteem who travels to Hong Kong to take up a job teaching English to rich local children. It is also the story of a love triangle between Ava, a wealthy banker named Julian who is trying to get over his ex and allows Ava to stay in his apartment for free, and Eileen, a razor sharp local who is the only genuinely decent person of the lot, or so it seems at first. 

Initially, I wasn't sure that I liked this story. The first part drags considerably, and there is little to like about a story where the main character basically puts up with being treated like live-in mistress by a man who doesn't love her, simply because her self-esteem is so low that she doesn't think she deserves anything better. And certainly, Ava is an expert in pushing people away. On several occasions, I wrote this off as being just yet another Literary novel that puts the sex life of the dysfunctional female character, and the people who take advantage of her, front and centre at the expense of properly exploring other themes. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because as the story progresses, it becomes clear that author Naoise Dolan is trying to tell a very different story. When Julian goes away for a few months, Ava meets Eileen. And the pair don't just fall in love. Bit by bit, Eileen cracks away at the walls that Ava has put up around herself. And for me, that's where the story really begins and starts to take shape. I began to realise that not only was Ava an unreliable narrator, but she'd had some brutal experiences in the past, ones that made it very difficult for her to be able to easily accept herself, her sexuality and her relationships with others. It's best for the reader to discover what those things were for themselves, but I will say that it proves just how brutal adolescent girls can be--and people can become hypocrites when they grow up.

Exciting Times also provides an interesting commentary on the English Language and how we use it, which was quite pleasing to read.

Overall, this was a book that took a long time for me to get into, and one that I could have very easily written off before the halfway mark. I'm glad that I stuck with it, though, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to others.


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