‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan: An Honest Portrayal of Modern Love?

Welcome back for another book review 🙂

These days there are so many representations of “modern love” around, and recently I’ve been discussing shows such as ‘Love Life’ and Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People‘.

After watching all these shows, I’ve been struck by the same questions about the portrayal of “modern love”, and whether current shows, films, and books provide honest representations of the modern relationship.

And after reading ‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan, the same questions about modern love and relationships came to mind.

‘Exciting Times’ focuses on Ava, a young girl from Northern Ireland who is teaching English to school-children in Hong Kong. She’s living from pay cheque to pay cheque, living in a cramped air bnb with people she doesn’t like. Early in the novel she meets Julian, a rich banker who is also living in Hong Kong. He’s part of the Oxford set, rich and entitled.

He enjoys Ava’s company, and they start seeing each other regularly, first as a friendship, then as something more.

Ava soon moves in with Julian, allowing him to pay for everything while she teaches at the school. She meets his rich friends, feeling out of place among Victoria and Seb as they probe her about her “quaint” upbringing.

Coming from a poorer, less privileged background, Julian’s friends presume she’s “some kind of socialist”, insulting her with patronising and rude comments.

While Julian never does anything particularly wrong, I couldn’t help but dislike him. He never wants to define his relationship with Ava, choosing instead to do as he pleases, making her feel like he’s a much more important part of her life than the other way around. And when his rich, snobby friends say mean, disgusting things about Ava behind her back- he doesn’t rush to her defence.

As the book goes on, it’s infuriating that Ava doesn’t speak her mind, and she never feels comfortable enough with Julian to say when she’s upset, or angry. One particular time sticks in my head. Victoria, Julian’s rich friend, tells Ava she would like to sleep with Julian. But, because of the undefined nature of their relationship, Ava says nothing.

Putting myself in her position, I could never stay silent in a situation like that. If someone said to me that they were after the man I was with, I wouldn’t just continue to hang out with the same insipid, horrible people.

The book cover of 'Exciting Times' by Naoise Dolan, with a picture of the author next to the cover.
Picture credits here

‘Exciting Times’ takes some crazy turns, with Ava creating a friendship and relationship with one of Victoria’s friends, Edith, and showing some of her more obsessive character traits in a way which is honest and definitely indicative of what a lot of people are thinking.

For example, Ava discusses how she’s searched extensively online and on social media for many of the people she likes, such as Julian or Edith. I love the honesty with which Ava discusses these habits. I like that Ava admits this “obsessive” tendency in her narration.

While at times I wanted to shake Ava and tell her to speak up about the things she disliked in her life, I really enjoyed reading the events of the book through her eyes. She was dry and funny, and her opinions were unashamedly honest. She expressed her thoughts on whether it was anti-feminist to let Julian pay for everything, and honestly spoke about issues such as money, sex, and sexuality- as well as the difference between a relationship with a man vs a relationship with a woman.

The mean, cutting things she thinks are fantastic, and suggest that this is what often goes on in someone’s head- even if they don’t want to admit it.

It was refreshing to read the narration of a woman who clearly expressed what she thought about her “relationships” and while it was annoying at times when she failed to speak her mind, I think this was an honest representation of how many people feel.

It’s easy to say what we would do in Ava’s situation- but until you’re in that situation, you don’t know how you would act.

If I’m honest, if I was in Ava’s position I would almost definitely have to leave the “relationship” with Julian as I can’t deal with that kind of uncertainty and overthinking. However, I liked that Ava expressed her thoughts throughout the book, and I enjoyed understanding the complexities of her partnership with Julian.

It’s been said that this book is similar to Sally Rooney‘s novels. However, while I wouldn’t have done the same as Ava, I think her narration was modern and honest. Ava’s narration was raw and gritty, but also funny- and not as “pretentious” as ‘Conversations with Friends‘.

Overall, this book was a little infuriating but it was very interesting to read about Ava’s relationships from a modern, honest perspective. She was open and cutting, expressing thoughts about sex and love that you don’t often see in other books. I’d really recommend checking out this book.

Does ‘Exciting Times’ portray a modern representation of modern love? What did you think of the characters? Would you consider giving this book a go?

Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

Happy reading x

57 thoughts

  1. A surprisingly long review of the book, it’s been a while since I’ve read one that wasn’t just 2-3 paragraphs.

    I don’t really read or watch modern takes on love, and haven’t heard of or watched the three shows you mentioned. But one thing’s for sure, I’m with you on not still hanging out with someone who says they want to steal your partner. That’s not very healthy

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What I understand from the review it is not a story I would enjoy reading. It feels me with unhappiness and anxiety. The reason is the least amount of stress I have in my life the better. Especially when it comes to love. To judge someone of their choices is to understand what brings them to their choice. But at the end of the day it’s not your business to understand, it is their business to sort out their mess. If you walk up to someone who is being mistreated and tell them to walk away from their user/abuser they won’t do it. Not only that, they will also hate you for interfering and ‘judging’ them. So, my question is, where are the happy characters in medium paying jobs in current literature? We need more of normal in our lives, me thinks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Maria 🙂 I agree I think it’s not an enjoyable book for everyone, and there’s definitely a level of stress when reading this book- particularly when Ava is juggling the two relationships, or staying quiet about things she clearly feels but doesn’t think she should voice! I agree, everyday characters with everyday stories are definitely missing from a lot of contemporary literature x


  3. To begin with this book sounded like the storyline In one of my favourite 80s films – Pretty in Pink. However, Andie was more vocal and sure of herself than Ava seems to be in this book.
    When being entertained, I want to cheer my female protagonists rather than be frustrated. Although, I think Ava’s reactions are probably more true to life in the majority of relationships.
    Great review, Eleanor.
    Flora ¦ http://www.florasmusings.com

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Off to get a copy of this NOW. I think this sounds incredible, Ava’s personality sounds amazing, infuriating, and entertaining all at the same time. I want to shake her too just from reading your review x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing this review. I’ve not heard of the book but it seems like a good one. I can see how it would be infuriating at times, you probably just wanted to shout at her at times!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read the book and honestly don’t plan to. I feel like I’ll be mad while reading this book because of what you mentioned about the friend wanting to sleep with her lover. This is absurd. But, except for that, I love romance novels.

    I got to say, this is one of the best honest reviews I have read in a while and I absolutely love it. I totally plan on checking out your other book reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I actually quite like the sound of this book – I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently, I want to read but I can’t quite find the right book, but this has definitely caught my interest. This might just be the book that gets me back into reading, so thank you for sharing x

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This book is on my bookshelf. I was attracted by the red and yellow cover. So far, I find Julian so pretentious and full of himself while Ava is quirky, funny and being played. I am routing for her to take control of things.

    Liked by 1 person

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