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Novel about a woman who’s ‘good at men’ moves to Hong Kong for an affair is hailed book of summer

A love story about about a 22-year-old Irish woman who cashes in her ‘abortion fund’ to move from Dublin to Hong Kong and shacks up with a mysterious Etonian banker has been dubbed the must-read novel of the summer.

Exciting Times, by Irish novelist Naoise Dolan has drawn comparisons to Sally Rooney’s Normal People due to its depiction of a sexually-charged relationship with two lovers on either side of the class divide. 

Ava, the young protagonist from Dublin moves in with Julian, a 28-year-old banker and Oxford graduate from Cambridgeshire. The pair have a sexual relationship, but Ava sleeps in the spare room rent-free.

‘I wasn’t good at most things but I was good at men, and Julian was the richest man I’d ever been good at,’ Ava says. 

Exciting Times, by Irish novelist Naoise Dolan has drawn comparisons to Sally Rooney’s Normal People due to its depiction of a sexually-charged relationship with lovers on either side of the class divide

An extract of the novel was first published in literary magazine The Stinging Fly, while Sally Rooney was the editor – and the New York Times said the debut echoes the work of Rooney, but with ‘a queer twist’. 

It follows the the love story of Ava and Julian, who like Normal People’s Marianne and Connell continue to have sex but can never commit to each other. 

‘I loved him — potentially,’ Ava thinks. ‘That, or I wanted to be him.’ 

The novel has won rave reviews, with the Irish Times saying it’s likely to fill a ‘Sally Rooney shaped hole in many readers lives’ and the Times of London calling it the ‘book of the summer’. 

Waterstones say it’s perfect for fans of Sally Rooney and Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan. 

Like Normal People, the romance straddles the class divide, with Ava from a working class Irish family and Julian from the top of English society.

‘Possibly to make fun of me in some obscure way, Julian remembered my parents’ names and used them often’ Ava writes. 

‘Have you spoken to Peggy recently?’ he’d say, or: ‘How’s Joe?’ His were called Miles and Florence. I found the comparison illuminating, but he didn’t. For Brits, class was like humility: you only had it as long as you denied it’ Ava tells the reader.    

Normal People follows Connell and Marianne from their school days in County Sligo to university at Trinity College Dublin

An extract of the novel was first published in literary magazine The Stinging Fly, while Sally Rooney was the editor – and the New York Times said the debut echoes the work of Rooney, but with ‘a queer twist’.

Normal People, which was published in 2018, got a further lease life this year when the BBC debuted the TV adaptation which became an instant hit.  

Sally Rooney, was dubbed the voice of a generation after she became the youngest ever author to win the prestigious Costa prize at just 27.

Normal People follows Connell and Marianne from their school days in County Sligo to university at Trinity College Dublin. 

At school, he’s well-liked and popular, while she’s lonely, proud and intimidating. But when Connell comes to pick up his mother from her cleaning job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying in Dublin and Marianne has found her feet in a new social world but Connell hangs at the side lines, shy and uncertain. 

Normal People follows Connell and Marianne from their school days in County Sligo to university at Trinity College Dublin. Pictured: Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell in the BBC Three adaptation of the show

Normal People follows Connell and Marianne from their school days in County Sligo to university at Trinity College Dublin. Pictured: Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell in the BBC Three adaptation of the show

Similarly, Ava leaves her native Dublin, where she believes everyone hates her, to become a badly-paid English Second Language teacher to primary school children in Hong Kong.

‘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,’ Ava confesses. 

She lives with Julian and they sleep together but are ‘far too ironic’ to be a couple, even though Ava gets on rather well with Julian’s dad. 

‘At the start of October, I moved my things to Julian’s. I told him I didn’t have time to go around viewing places. He said I could stay until I did.’

”Take the guest room,’ he said. ‘I get calls at night.’ We kept having sex.’ she adds.

Ava loves Julian’s money, and he likes how much she likes it. ‘I googled the salary range for junior vice presidents at his bank: €137,000 to €217,000 a year, plus bonus and housing allowance’ Ava tells the reader. 

‘You’re not easily pleased with how other people put sentences together,’ Julian accuse, ‘but when it comes to money, you’ve got no taste. And no squeamishness — about asking for it, discussing it, hoarding it.’ 

Ava does small tasks for Julian around the house too.

‘As things really stood, I performed petty tasks in exchange for access to him. He jokingly asked me to organise his bookshelf, and when I actually did, he said I was brilliant. One weekend I made the mistake of pointing out that he should pack for Seoul, and thereafter he expected me to remind him whenever he went on a business trip.’

‘I didn’t include condoms, not because I minded his seeing other people but because I was afraid it woudl seem passive-aggressive,’ she says. 

Ava also secretly hopes to find out that Julian is married, because it would be more exciting to be a mistress than simply sleeping with someone who doesn’t want to commit. 

‘I liked imagining Julian had a wife back in England. I am a jezebel, I’d think. This wine rack was a wedding gift and I am using it to store Jack Daniel’s because I have terrible taste in everything. 

‘She is Catholic — in the English recusant aristocrat sense, not the Irish poverty sense — and will never grant him a divorce, and I cannot in any case usurp her as the woman who loved him before life and investment banking strangled him, creatively.   

When Julian reveals he’d like her even if she was six years older, Ava adds: ‘I was disappointed, and realised I’d wanted him to be into the fact that I was twenty-two. There was nothing else I had that he didn’t.’

But when Julian leaves Hong Kong on business, Ava finds herself drawn towards Mei Ling ‘Edith’ Zhang, a glossy, Instagram-addicted lawyer from a prestigious Hong Kong family.

‘I wanted her life,’ Ava thinks. ‘I worried this might endanger our friendship, but so far it seemed to be facilitating it.’

She becomes entangled in a bisexual love triangle as their friendship moves from awkward flirtation into a romance.  

Their affair takes place mostly in Julian’s expensive apartment secretly because  Edith’s parents are in the dark about her sexuality, but when Julian returns Ava must decide between living in an luxury flat for free or breaking up with Edith.     

Edith is enthusiastic and unapologetically earnest, in contrast to secretive and emotionally closed off Julian who can never tell Ava he loves her.

But the pair are both rich, Oxbridge educated and members of society families, a world away from what Ava is used to in Dublin.  

Dolan, like Rooney, is in her mid-20s, from Dublin and went to Trinity College.

As well as rave reviews in the papers, many social media users have share their thoughts about the story of Twitter and goodreads, with some calling it a cross between Sally Rooney and Fleabag.

‘This is just really fantastic,’ one wrote.  

As well as rave reviews in the papers, many social media users have share their thoughts about the story of Twitter and goodreads , with some calling it a cross between Sally Rooney and Fleabag

As well as rave reviews in the papers, many social media users have share their thoughts about the story of Twitter and goodreads , with some calling it a cross between Sally Rooney and Fleabag

‘Oh my goodness. This book is incredibly fine. Now I know what the phrase ‘razor sharp wit’ really means. On a sentence level the novel delivers one perfect zinger after another. 

‘Dolan is particularly good at capturing the way men talk to women whom they mistakenly think are not as smart as they are. 

‘The dialog is brilliant throughout. You have to understand that this is the kind of story I have very high standards for because the plot is an evergreen plot: young person at loose ends making her way in the world and deciding who to love. 

‘And yet it’s so original. I dove right in and read from beginning to end, and now I’m giving thanks that such a book exists in the world—light, sweet, sad, true.’ said another.

Last month, Dolan confirmed on Twitter that  Black Bear Pictures, the production company behind The Imitation Game, have optioned the rights for a TV adaptation.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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