Our book extract this issue is from Irish novelist Naoise Dolan. Her a dry, sharp and witty debut, Exciting Times, has received much praise from both readers and reviewers alike, with many referring to Dolan as one of Ireland’s ‘future greats’.
Ralph and Victoria threw a Christmas dinner. Their flat had big white rooms, a long glass table, and, remarkably, enough friends to fill it. Victoria passed around duck canapés and said it was a shame Seb – Slaughters, was it, or Linklaters – and Jane– JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley – couldn’t make it, but lucky them, having time to fly home. From this we understood that Ralph and Victoria were more important than Morgans who slaughtered and linked later, that we were too or we’d be with our relatives and not in Hong Kong, and that if Seb and Jane were in the country, they’d have come.
You could tell the festive spirit had taken Victoria from her encompassment of us, her guests, in her claims about who was busiest. Alternatively, you could be me and not have had money for flights home. I didn’t take a canapé. ‘Being good, Ava?’ Victoria said. Her implied temporality spoke volumes. ‘I’m a vegetarian,’ I said. Victoria had large teeth. They made it difficult for her to smile without scaring people, which was why Victoria smiled a lot. After dinner everyone pretended it was the loud sort of Christmas party you have the week before. It was easier than acting like family.
Ralph put on a jazz playlist, and at each new song told all who were curious it was a pity the artist had died young. Victoria ushered me over to her ‘other’ Irish friend, as though she’d had each of us imported at the other’s request. ‘One of yours, Oisín,’ she said, and he looked at her like she’d handed him adoption papers penned in crayon. He soon mentioned he’d gone to Gonzaga. He was a rich Irish person, preferred having wealth in common with Victoria to Ireland in common with me, and was annoyed at us both for disabusing him that Victoria saw it that way.
His mouth said it was great to see another Mick out foreign, and his eyes said: don’t fuck this up for me. As a buffer I drew in two Englishmen I knew from previous events. Oisín could like me then. The three of them did, and I’d had enough wine to pretend I liked them, too. Someone said Julian had called me ‘very bright’. I felt an impulse to run over, look up at Julian, and go: very bright, saying it like I was drinking Victoria’s wine – relishing not having paid for it. Then I’d stay in his pocket forever. I was able to fill in ‘– considering’, but chose to stay dizzy on the first two words.
Victoria had left us and joined Julian by the window. She was giggling and doing most of the talking, so I gathered she was laughing at her own jokes. I couldn’t go over. He’d think I missed my owner. In groups Julian talked quietly and slowly. Really his calm insouciance betrayed as much entitlement as Ralph’s braying – more, since he made you listen harder – but it was soothing. I usually spoke softly, too, and sometimes thought: a little lower and no one can hear us. ‘She was blotto’, Victoria yelled. I wondered if Victoria was a real person or three Mitford sisters in a long coat. ‘Was she’, Julian said.
The men around me talked about their schools. As an adult with a job, I did not find the topic altogether piquant – but British men were resourceful, and found school not only interesting, but the most interesting thing they’d ever done. Andrew had been to Radley, and Giles to Manchester Grammar. Giles joked that they were similar schools, which was how I learned Andrew’s was better. They reminisced about rugby. Oisín contributed so they’d know Gonzaga played, too. Max joined, waited, then unsheathed: Westminster. I was outside their figurations. No one asked where I’d gone.
‘Will we do some white?’ Oisín said. An English person would have said ‘shall’, but he was understood. I declined. Julian wouldn’t like it. He did coke on occasion, but said I had an addictive personality. I was too pleased with ‘very bright’ to hold this against him at the party, so I mentally stored it for the next time I hated him and lacked a sensible reason.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan is published by W&N in Trade Paperback, £12.99. It’s available from Eason now, from €13.49.[/restrict]