When reading a novel, I don’t have to like the main character, but it helps if they have a few redeeming qualities. For me, Ava doesn’t.
I feel this novel is too clever for its own good. There are many witty lines throughout, and the use of language is razor-sharp, but it’s all just a bit too pretentious for my liking.
You don’t have to be 22 anymore to remember what it was like. I thought I would identify with the main protagonist somewhat as I too had been a TEFL teacher and had also worked abroad (not teaching TEFL.) However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Ava is self-centered, totally lacking in real self-awareness – although from her stream of consciousness ramblings you would think she was as enlightened as the Buddha himself – and totally lacking in empathy or compassion for anyone. She is also incredibly pretentious.
Ava is in Hong Kong working as a TEFL teacher when she meets a wealthy banker named Julian. After a few dates, Ava moves in with him. There appears to be no genuine feeling on either side. Julian seems perfectly contented to let Ava stay in his apartment rent-free for as long as she wants. I never understood why. He could have had the sex without the added complications.
Ava then meets a wealthy Hong Kong Lawyer named Edith, and as their friendship develops you do at least see a modicum of genuine self-reflection on the part of Ava, as she realizes her feelings for Edith are a lot more complicated than she realised.
I felt the sense of place in the novel was weak. I didn’t feel the atmosphere of Hong Kong. Streets and restaurants were named but could have been anywhere.
There were some incredibly witty lines throughout the novel, and I did find myself laughing out loud several times.
Naoise Dolan, like her contemporary Sally Rooney, studied English at Trinity. She clearly has an excellent grasp of the English language and uses it to superb effect. What I feel she lacks is maturity with regard to portraying the complexity of real emotions. In short, she needs to grow up, and I think as a writer she may produce some incredible work when she does.