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Opposed Positions [Hardcover]

Gwendoline Riley
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 14.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

17 May 2012

At thirty, Aislinn Kelly is an occasional novelist with a near-morbid attunement to the motives of those around her. Isolated, restless and stuck, she decamps to America - a default recourse - this time to an attic room in Indianapolis, to attempt once again the definitive act of self-salvage.

There are sharp memories to contend with as the summer heats up, and not least regarding her family history, now revealed as so botched and pitiful it seems it might yet cancel her out. She's spent years evading the attentions of her unstable, bullying father, only to find her mother now cowering in a second rancid marriage. There are also friendships lost or ailing: with bibulous playwright Karl, sly poet Erwin, depressed bookshop-wallah Bronagh, and Aislinn's best friend Cathy, who has recently found God... Finally her thoughts turn to her last encounter with Jim Schmidt, a man she's loved for ten years, hasn't seen for five, yet still has to consider her opposite number in life.

Opposed Positions is a startlingly frank novel about the human predicament, about love and its substitutes, disgraceful or otherwise. Some of these people want to be free - of themselves, of each other - and some have darker imperatives. Wry, shocking, perfectly observed and utterly heart-breaking, the novel moves towards its troubling conclusion: a painful appreciation of what it is we've come from, and what we might be heading for.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (17 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224094238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224094238
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.2 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 519,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Gwendoline Riley...shows herself more than up to the job of writing the wasted hinterlands of the human heart.' (Anne Enright, The Guardian)

Riley is careful not to forsake craft in favour of voice, preferring instead to make Aislinn’s monologue perform all kinds of invisible work, in terms of scene-setting and plot development. The novel is digressive without being idle, slender without being slight... Riley writes with a kind of defeated ecstasy.(Leo Robson, The Sunday Times)

'a scrupulous performance'
Kate Webb, The Times Literary Supplement

'Riley’s work is both intricate and expansive. Her prose is a continual joy to read, and the detail immensely satisfying: she can squeeze more resonance out of a misplaced apostrophe than others can from baroque, technicolour trauma. Her literary style is so wholeheartedly and ambitiously a creation of her own devising that I fully expect the next interesting, stiletto-sharp debut novel by a woman under 30 to be described as Riley-ish, Riley-esque or Gwendolinear. (Stuart Kelly, Scotland On Sunday)

'Icily impressive.' (Stephanie Cross, The Daily Mail)

Book Description

A spare and stunning new novel from one of England's brightest literary talents

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Clarity of Vision 30 May 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a refugee from the previous Century I look to modern novels to provide me with some comprehension of modern times. The world that narrator Aislinn Kelly inhabits is disturbing. Modern modes of communication are used to convey generally unpleasant feelings, to create non-specific threats and a sense on unease. Her father sends aggressive e-mails. Friends make unwelcome calls on mobile phones. Her mother's new husband hides behind his 'funny' voices and a newly acquired tuba. Which is perhaps the best use of that unwieldy instrument.
Aislinn, a precise observer and published novelist, associates with some somewhat rancid men and escapes intermittently to America, perhaps to write.
I admired the writing and the unflinching honesty. I am not so positive about the heroine. It did get me worried when she picked up some drunken man at a bar. Her intelligence and perspicacity show through, but there is a steel cold chill about her observation of humanity.
Gwendoline Riley is a courageous author. She sees her characters with clarity and doesn't much care for what she sees.
I thought of describing the novel as Sartrian but while hell can be other people Sartre's vision covered a wider range! On the back cover, referring to "Joshua Spassky", an earlier novel by Riley that I enjoyed, we get comparisons with Virginia Woolf, and Carson McCullers. It is a while since I read the latter but apparently she said that her central theme was 'spiritual isolation'. That sounds about right!
"Opposite Positions" is in this league and is well worth reading. The underlying tension and latent aggression is uncomfortable. Aislinn and the rest of the cast are strong characters but can be difficult company. The entire novel is uncompromising, and rings true.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable book focussing on misogyny 16 May 2012
By Ripple TOP 100 REVIEWER
There is a reason why Gwendoline Riley has something of a cult following. She is technically innovative and very good at what she does, but the subject matter is invariably dark and downbeat which prevents mass market appeal. In that respect "Opposed Positions" is very much business as usual then. The subject matter most evident here is misogyny and the damaging impact it has both directly and indirectly on people. It's painful to read at times; it feels as if the narrator, an occasional novelist, Aislinn Kelly, is picking at the scab of her life and her family in a way that feels shocking and, for all the wry observations, remains uncomfortable to read.

We don't get a straightforward narrative here. Riley, through the voice of Aislinn, dives back and forward in time, recalling events in the past and always looking to identify the hidden motives of those around her. Although she evokes some sympathy, she is equally irritating and would, one feels, be hard work as a friend - not that she has many of those.

At first it seems that her father, who her mother left when his violence and drinking was too much for her, is the main reason for her insecurities, belittling Aislinn in her youth and then sending some nasty e-mails to her when she goes to university. It's creepy rather than overtly threatening though. Is this why her friends include the depressed Bronagh who works in a bookshop, and why her own choice of partners is so unsuitable?

Aislinn has to head to the US in order to escape enough to get the peace required to write her novels, although she is something of a reluctant novelist, and hates the process.

When her mother re-marries it seems that her choice of partner remains unfortunate.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a wasp in the room 27 May 2012
In a recent interview Gwendoline Riley said that having another person about was like having a wasp in the room, and certainly her (autofictional?) heroine here is a dab hand with the swatter. Dead insects litter the floor of this novel, and yet Aislin is a vegan, and her body is probably a temple, with a cult of one. Actually she's quite funny in a merciless way about how ghastly and uncool everybody else is. The real objection, despite critical praise to the contrary, is that the book is so badly written: clunking dialogue, affectation galore, 'observational' decriptions, signs of lack of revision, but you have to feel sorry for the heroine, well someone has to.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book... 20 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's one of those books which is just steady throughout.. following a character who just really doesn't have a straightforward life... for all those "flows" out there who are reading this as part of the book club (inspired by Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine... well done for buying it!)
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars melancholy 10 Jun 2012
By Pauline Butcher Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I am so fed up with melancholy women writers. And here's another one - meandering, self-absorbed first person 'tale' that has no beginning middle or end. I'm surprised a publisher even took it on. We're given a detailed look at her creepy father who then disappears from the narrative completely. We have several telephone conversations with friends which read like some she's recorded and used here, and then it finishes with her mother who in the beginning is horrible and then becomes her best friend. What ever happened to the art of narrative?
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