Book Review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

by | Book Review

I saw this book as a battle, one fought out between Julian and Edith for the winning of Ava’s attention. But within this battle ensues complications regarding money, sexuality and power.

Ava lives in Hong Kong but is originally from Dublin. She spends a lot of time with a wealthy banker, Julian, and because she is on a relatively small wage from teaching English, he pays her way in the world. But this relationship is based on nonchalance. It works because both parties suggest that they do not deeply love the other one or rely on each other emotionally. At the foundation of this relationship is the understanding that when they are having sex, it is because they both crave physical interaction.

Along comes Edith. When Julian travels to England for his job, Ava and Edith spend a lot of time together. They begin to become romantically interested in each other, and Ava questions her sexuality. This relationship differs from that of the former, as Edith is not afraid to say that she wants to be with Ava.

This is a story of communication and miscommunication. Ava and Julian never seem to meaningfully communicate, and it leads to Ava financially relying upon him but pretending that she does not need him. Who knows how they really feel about each other? But this is juxtaposed against Edith and Ava’s relationship. Ava says that she would have been scared to be a lesbian in Ireland, as it would have been frowned upon. And yet, why is it so much easier for this relationship to ensue for Ava in Hong Kong than hers with Julian?

The book was almost a hurricane of action. It quickly sweeps through event after event of abandonment of Ava by Julian and of her growing infatuation with Edith. Throughout this, I regularly did not know how I felt: I knew that Ava loved Edith more than Julian and so was rooting for their relationship to work, and yet Ava seemed almost upset that she would be leaving Julian if she was to choose Edith. It made me ask whether she could have been happy with Julian had they been more open about their emotions, and talked about their situation with each other.

I think that the book’s beauty lies in this uncertainty. As a reader you feel uncomfortable that you are rooting for Julian at times, when he was obviously using Ava for sex. Reading the parts of this book where scenes show Julian desiring Ava and then giving her money to please her while he lived another life made me angry. However, because we are only allowed to see Ava’s perspective on this, and she regularly does not know what Julian really feels, it made me ask what the nature of their relationship really was, behind this mask of nonchalance.

This uncertainty stems from how Ava herself is uncertain about what she feels. We do not know who she will choose until the very end of the book; we do not know how the narrative will play out. It is not a linear plot that shows Ava slowly realising that she is part of the LGBTQ+ community, but rather it is a narrative that shows that she herself is stuck in a position of liminality. Her relationship with Julian actually seems more embedded in emotion than Ava likes to admit, and yet Edith has captured her interest. Her decision here between two important people in her life shows the reality of many people in society in following their heart: it shows that love has no straightforward answers and no linear paths to follow.

You can purchase the book here.

Words and photo by Sophie Wilson.

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