I was very excited by the premise of the novel – an Irish graduate called Ava heads to Hong Kong to teach TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) because she’s not sure what else to do but knows she needs to get away.
There, Ava does not live a very exciting life. She gets paid very little, half of that is sunk into rent and she bares so much self-hate that making friends is not something she thinks she’s capable of (not that she tries). She then meets Julian. Julian is a banker from England who went to Eton then Oxford, makes more money than he knows what to do with, and Ava becomes his “kept” “roommate” – they do have sex, too. But they’re not dating. Then Ava meets Edith and everything, her understanding of her sexuality included, changes.
In the categories of, “books where not much happens except *life*”, as well as “books where you kind of hate everyone but not always at the same time”, I found that I enjoyed the second half a lot more than the first. In fact it’s taken me a long time to get through it because of that, but I’m really glad to have read it. Dolan’s turn of phrase and wit is constant, and her social observations are terrifyingly astute, making it at times uncomfortable to read – sometimes because you’re having your worst thoughts mirrored back at you, at others because you’re seeing others’ behaviour put into words.
This was my last to read of the Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award’s shortlist and I remain in awe of variety and quality.
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Read the shortlist: