Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Ava is an Irish expat living in Hong Kong, teaching English to privileged Hongkonger children. She is in her twenties, and is a rudderless kind of high-achiever: intelligent, but unable (or unwilling) to focus her ability. Miserable in her shared Airbnb rental, she moves into the high-rise apartment of her friend-with-benefits, Julian: a British banker with endless disposable income. They both agree that Ava is only staying until she finds a rental she likes, but Ava doesn’t look for places, and Julian doesn’t prod her to do so. They exist in the kind of harmony reserved for two equally snarky people who think they’re smarter than everyone else around them. When Julian returns to London for work, giving no date for his return, Ava strikes up a friendship with Edith, a lawyer. Trips to the theatre and high tea gradually shift from being friend dates to actual dates, and Edith and Ava become a fully-fledged couple. When Julian suddenly returns to Hong Kong, a very strange love triangle, full of passive aggression, ensues.
Naoise Dolan has a fantastic, deadpan sense of humour, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as simultaneously annoyed by and absorbed in a fictional character’s love life shenanigans as I was with Ava’s. There are so many wonderful, terrible characters, too: Edith’s mother is a classic, what one might call a ‘nasty piece of work’; Julian’s posh expat mates perfectly mirror the cookie-cutter cruelty of rich kids in any country. This novel does slightly sag in the middle, but it’s worth pushing through the minor pacing issues that arise, because it all does come good in the end. Exciting Times is a droll tale of modern romance, class, gender and sexuality from an exciting voice in a brand-new generation of Irish novelists.