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Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan review – a witty, deadpan debut

A young Dubliner in Hong Kong struggles to connect in this fresh and funny debut about love and self-knowledge

Ava, a 22-year-old Dubliner living in Hong Kong, describes herself as “good at men”. It’s a brilliantly concise summation of her take on relationships, which she sees as a power game, an “ultimately shallow emotional transaction” in which the greatest potential benefit might be that you get to move into an apartment better than anything you can afford on your own. Julian, her posh banker boyfriend, has such an apartment – which is just as well, since he also has an arrogance to match his salary. “Why do you like me?” Ava asks him. “Who said I liked you?” he counters. His privilege is the invisible third party in the relationship. Ava makes it her mission to get him to admit some feelings for her, purely because it would give her the upper hand.

Though this model of relationship-as-power-struggle is hardly new, Dolan brings a fresh 21st-century sensibility to it. Ava is constantly trying to make sense of her situation by framing it in terms of identity: does sleeping with Julian make her a bad feminist? Or a good girlfriend? In this, she’s reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s precarious young women, whose struggle for self-affirmation is so snarled up with the power dynamics of sex.

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Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell review – too close for comfort

An outstanding collection of short stories about the vulnerability and enlightenment of motherhoodIn...

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Made for Love by Alissa Nutting review – sex, lies and the big tech bonanza

This gag-heavy comedy, in which a tech mogul has planted a microchip in his wife’s brain, is a wild...

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Xstabeth by David Keenan review – the mystical power of music

A haunting, visionary novel that moves from St Petersburg to St Andrews, with ghosts and saints hove...

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