The figurative language of Naoise Dolan…

Reading time: About 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of similes from Irish writer Naoise Dolan….

A 28-year-old Dubliner, Naoise Dolan (pictured above), studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University. Her first novel, Exciting Times, tells the story of Ava, a young Irish immigrant teaching English grammar to wealthy children in Hong Kong.

As I read the book, I was reminded of my reaction to Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People. I had loved the writing but disliked the plot.

Still, further thought has persuaded me to accept the argument of the LA Times book critic: “Stylistically, the women have little in common. Where Rooney is all relaxed, freewheeling dialogue, generous sentences and blurry edges, Dolan has buttoned-up elocution, taut phrasing and sharp angles.”

I remain impressed by Dolan’s caustic sense of humour and her adept wrangling of similes. Here are my favourite examples of her figurative style:

  • Like shark’s teeth, teachers dropped out and were replaced.
  • With my college brain on, I knew many more people lost their jobs when banks like Julian’s played subprime roulette — but the college brain came with a I turned it up for people I hated, and down for people I liked.
  • “Knock yourself out,” Julian said, which wasn’t the responded I’d been trying to elicit, but I thought it could be fun, like kitting out a Barbie doll for an improbably profession.
  • Victoria had large teeth. They made it difficult for her to smile without scaring people, which was why Victoria smiled a lot.
  • The skies were thick and bronchial.
  • From the atrium the trumpets dithered like jurors.
  • Three-syllable words spread out like the spokes on an umbrella: “attaches” became “a-tach-iss.”
  • Her keyboard clacked like chattering teeth.
  • The office buildings sported a few dark windows like punched-out options on a game show, but plenty still burned bright.
  • I wanted to explain that to Edith: that holding Julian’s hand was like holding a museum pass and holding hers was like holding a grenade.
  • In the elevator a mink-coated woman scanned his height as though unsure he needed so much of it, then my hemline in certainty that a great deal more was required.
  • The women in the restaurant wore bright dresses as though to atone for the glum-suited men.
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