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Book club May review: Exciting Times

Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan.

If I could summarise my thoughts towards this book into one word: indifferent. 

Dolan is without doubt a fantastic writer, but she is not a storyteller. In my opinion.  

Personally, I felt optimistic opening the cover. The dry title pricked at my senses and when the writer is likened to Sally Rooney, as much as you hate the process of likening writers, you are intrigued. Especially when that likening is Rooney. Also, yes, I judged the book by the cover. I liked it.

Periodically she touched her Celine trapeze bag. I thought: it’s still there, Victoria. It’s not going anywhere. The cow’s dead. 


Unfortunately, I felt like there was no storyline to follow. The week it took me to finish the book, in itself speaks volumes. 

Dolan is a very perceptive and observant writer, but the style just felt overdone about halfway in and continued to drag through to a very confusing ending. I was never particularly invested in the characters, but I also don’t think that is necessarily an issue. I quite like complex characters I don’t relate to, but this didn’t quite hit the mark for me. The writing style just became jarring, requiring a lot of concentration to continually dissect meaning.

Although “Fiercely intelligent, brutally funny’ as Nathan Filer is quoted on the front of the book, I felt exciting times was almost too intelligent for its own good and didn’t allow the reader to get close to the ‘story’.

I could use the English and writing student within me to argue that is a writing technique, for a distant and self-proclaimed ‘waspish’ narrator. But ultimately, for me, it harmed what could have been magic. 

Style over substance. In my brutally honest opinion. Reading some paragraphs was like me trying to pronounce Naoise. It took a few attempts.

However, all this being said – did I enjoy the book? Yes. 

Dolan’s writing is something that I can only admire. The perceptiveness in places left me bitter that the author is younger than I. It’s a clever book. The descriptions are new, witty and dryly sarcastic – which I enjoyed. Dolan toyed with LGBTQ+ in a subtle manner I haven’t necessarily seen before either – weaving in astute observations over emotional or contrived ones. I commend her on that.  

‘What the heck have the Irish got against Ireland?’
‘You know we can’t get abortions?’
I did not always feel I was Madison’s favourite Irish person.

Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

It’s just that – a story, it is not. I could summarise the plot in a sentence. I just wholeheartedly wish it had more substance. That the characters were not so surface level, the images painted more graphic. 

In the interest of book club, I actually folded corners of the page to note places I enjoyed, phrases, descriptions etc. How student of me. I’ll probably bring them up on the Zoom call, if we ever get past the hellos.

Page 28. ‘Although I was not someone Julian would bring to meet Florence, I imagined her having me for dinner, just the two of us. I’d mispronounce ‘gnocchi’ and she’d avoid saying it all evening so as not to embarrass me. I would meet her eye and think: in this way I could strip you of every word you know. I’d take them like truffles and you’d say, ‘Help yourself,’and then I’d take those too and you’d be speechless.’

Page 32. ‘Periodically she touched her Celine trapeze bag. I thought: it’s still there, Victoria. It’s not going anywhere. The cow’s dead.’

Page 33. ‘Waspish’

Page 106. ‘(Heidi had gone to boarding school with Edith, which was a normal thing for me to know because Edith has mentioned this in a comment that had come up on my newsfeed. My clicking Heidi’s name and going through her posts was less obviously the algorithm’s fault.)’

Page 120. ‘Lumpish children’

Page 182. ‘What the heck have the Irish got against Ireland?’ 
I said: ‘You know we can’t get abortions?’
I did not always feel I was Madison’s favoruite Irish person.

Page 237. ‘You said I want to *think* I’m detached. Look, that’s true. People hated me in school. At college I didn’t give them the opportunity. I felt like all of me was a secret. I know now it was just that I liked girls, but I thought I had to hide everything. I thought if I let anyone in, they’d find out what was broken about me. And then not only would they know, I’d know too.’

Page 250. ‘Edna had enough to be contending with. She’d tell you so herself. Where other people had hobbies or interests, Edna Slattery had contenions.And that, Mam said, was how puce doors happened.’