Your Friendly Blogger Reviews EXCITING TIMES, by Naoise Dolan.

Exciting Times a book by Naoise Dolan.

Jealousy and obsession, love and late capitalism, sex and the internet all come together in a ironic and fresh and invigorating tale of class and privilege.

Ava, is an intelligent, 22-year-old loner who moves from her native Dublin to Hong Kong to teach English, with no discernible qualifications other than being white. Not long after her arrival, she finds herself on a lunch date with Julian, an Oxford-educated British banker in his late 20s. She hopes he’ll be as impressed by her youth and attractiveness as she is by his salary, which she has Googled, thoroughly. “I wasn’t good at most things but I was good at men,” Ava confides in the reader, “and Julian was the richest man I’d ever been good at.”

Soon they are relationship in together, and Ava moves into Julian’s flat. She is highly aware both to the power and dynamics at play and to her moral predicament, as she adds up how much money she is saving on rent, as well as on the clothes and meals Julian pays for with the funds he doesn’t know what to do with.

Ava admires how Julian handles his lead, how As their undefined relationship goes on, she begins to develop her own brand of romantic yearning desire, which begins with a desire for his life of benifit. “I loved him — potentially,” she thinks. “That, or I wanted to be him.”

Ava does talk very much she has this very tendency and making great demans, and Dolan’s writing excels when Ava turns her analytical eye on the intersections between English syntax, zeitgeist technology and interpersonal relationships: “Because I lacked warmth, I was mainly assigned grammar classes, where children not liking you was a positive performance indicator. I found this an invigorating respite from how people usually assessed women.”

Digital counterbalance to Ava’s aloof and guarded in-person presence, and through this duality Dolan captures perfectly the nauseating insecurity of growing up today.

While Julian is back in London for six months, Ava meets Mei Ling “Edith” Zhang, a corporate lawyer from a well-off Hong Kong family. Edith has much in common with Julian: an Oxbridge pedigree and a high-powered, high-paying job. “I wanted her life,” Ava thinks. “I worried this might endanger our friendship, but so far it seemed to be facilitating it.”

Friendship with Edith eventually moves through phases of awkward flirtation into a romantic affair, taking place mostly in Julian’s apartment, and in secret, as Edith is not out to her parents. But Julian’s impending return means Ava must decide not so much between her lovers as between Edith and the expensive flat that she doesn’t pay for.

Exciting times happens after the 2014 Umbrella Movement, peaceful demonstrations that galvanized Hong Kong’s youth, who were demanding open elections, in a renewed spirit of protest. Unfortunately, Dolan’s superficial evocation of the island is conjured mostly through Instagram latte art geotagged on fashionable streets. The actual experiences of local people her age have no effect whatsoever on Ava, the details of their lives mentioned, by the author, only in passing. Absent the textures of a real city that is sharply divided along generational, ideological and class lines, Dolan’s novel could have taken place in any other major Asian metropolis. None of the English-speaking characters seek to venture beyond their established social circles, where even brief references to elections or the conditions of domestic workers are dismissed as “white savior-ish.” They barely notice the Chinese characters on street signs, let alone try to understand them.

After a local waiter replies to her English greeting in Cantonese, an irritated Edith points out one of Ava’s blind spots: “You’re not noticing because you’re white,” she says, “people see me and assume I’m from here.” Edith might let Ava off the hook.

Dolan explains the life of people who have spent time in Hong Kong on how it would like to live a anglophone who works and then party’s and about how sensitive they seem to be in a foreign city.

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Sandeep Madhavan
London, UK

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