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First Love Hardcover – 2 Feb 2017
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'Elegantly, beautifully written; Riley's prose is shimmering and luminous... First Love shows a writer at the very height of her powers, grappling and snaring her themes into a singular, devastating journey into the ungovernable reaches of the heart' -- Observer
'Gwendoline Riley [is] a fascinating novelist... She takes a familiar theme of midlife minor angst and focuses in, closer and closer, until the banal becomes surreal, even beautiful. The effect is beguiling... First Love is an exquisite and combative piece of news from nowhere - which is everywhere, too' -- Guardian
'Riley writes in pared-back, deceptively light sentences that twist and turn the emotional landscape almost perceptibly. Dialogue, too, is witheringly precise, often funny. First Love says something very honest about relationships' -- Sunday Times
'Devastating and stylish' -- Observer
'An intimate, uncompromising anatomy of love and revulsion between husband and wife, child and parents, from a writer of singular vision' -- Guardian
'Eviscerating, elegant, explosive... Riley's portraits are so nuanced that every character feels real, and she is funny and painfully true... Her vision is so expansive, her analysis so blistering, that First Love resonates a power that is bittersweet and highly affecting' -- Financial Times
'Compelling from the beginning. In precise, economic prose Riley conveys a sense of Edwyn and Neve's intimate relationship... An engrossing novel and Riley's writing shines through' -- Evening Standard
'Exquisite...searing... [It] is a disquieting read [but] because Riley portrays Neve and Edwyin's realtionship in such intimacy, we are also left with the stinging sense of having been loved... Five stars' -- Daily Telegraph
'Caustic, unsparing, occasionally funny and always perceptive... Riley's brutal honesty and precise, evocative language open up the possibility of joy amid wreckage with caveats... Luminous and dazzlingly brilliant' -- Irish Times
'This is, in a truly wonderful way, a perfectly horrible little novel... It is exact and exacting, [told] in pristine prose... Without giving away the ending, there is no simple ending... It is a plagal cadence, a wistful, imperfect resolution, a kind of blessing in its own way' -- Scotland on Sunday
'Visceral... almost impossible to turn away from' -- New Statesman
'Exceptionally good... an impossible little wonder of a book, terrifying and horrible... Take up the gauntlet with Gwendoline Riley: it's worth it' -- TLS
'Makes you question what love is... [Riley] should be on every literary lover's bookshelf' --Monocle Radio
'[A] brilliant, caustic snapshot of an unhappy marriage' -- Financial Times
'A modern-day Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' -- Tatler
'Riley's First Love maps the ins and outs of human emotion. It will dazzle you' -- Stylist
'Expect to read a forensic discussion of the ordinariness of life rendered bittersweet' -- Vogue
'Gwendoline Riley writes beautifully and memorably. First Love is evocative, often funny, and, towards the end, very moving' -- David Szaloy
'From Turgenev's First Love to Gwendoline Riley's is not so very far; the same panoptic, all-too-human lurches, afflictions and doubts, gorgeously exposed. Riley's artistry continues to signal the rueful need to narrate - yet the nobility of that impulse: undermined, impetuous, diffident - just as live and love - with heartbreak always in wait' --Alan Warner
'As soon as I finished reading First Love, I wanted to start it all over again... A smart and refreshingly honest look at love, relationships and how our past never leaves us... the beauty is in the reality -- Anita Rani, Daily Express
'So brilliantly, so scarily,
so harshly truthful... I've rarely laughed so much at a book. Riley's dialogue [is] startling in its verisimilitude and properly hilarious' --Pool
'[With] rich character depictions [...] Riley teases out a series of painful but exquisitely comedic episodes' -- Spectator
'Riley's descriptive powers [are] masterful... First Love is suffused with gems... Original and unforgettable' -- Mail on Sunday
'Riley brings you up short with almost every short spiky sentence in this stealthy, penetrating novel that recasts love as a dark, terrific puzzle, perhaps never to be solved' -- Daily Mail
'Extremely well written, carved with a finely honed blade... A nominee for the 2017 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, First Love is merciless and lean and, thank goodness, can be read in one uncomfortable sitting' --Chronic Bibliophilia
About the Author
GWENDOLINE RILEY was born in London in 1979. She is the author of the novels Cold Water, Sick Notes, Joshua Spassky and Opposed Positions. Her writing has won a Betty Trask Award and a Somerset Maugham Award, and has been shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
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Top customer reviews
She lives with and depends on Edwyn, an older man whose age, physical difficulties and mood swings make him volatile and yet predictable. Their (dis)affection is more of a clinging resentment, rabbitty habits of nose-rubbing and pet names collide with violent outbursts of verbal abuse.
Her prose, when reflecting Neve's inner thoughts, is lucid and beautiful. Contrasted with Edwyn's brutal, circular rants, her mother's self-indulgent monologues and memories of her father's narcissism. It's an uncomfortable place to be, mostly passive and voiceless in the face of all this noise.
The timeline jumps, adding to the circularity and lack of progress, convincing the reader there is no escape, no emotional terminus. Riley's work veers close to fictionalised memoir or at least is drawn to personal themes.
It's precise, bleak and demonstrates the writer's skill at evoking the imaginary but no less restrictive bars of a cage. In one exchange, a character explains that the expression “I fell in love at first sight” translates in Russian as “I fell down”.
At the end of this book, there's a sense of "I fell in and will never get out."
The book is excellent at picking out the seemingly minor details of life, like the way that noises in your house can alert you to the presence of your partner and how much can be conveyed from the eyes and expressions of her mother. Neve describes Edwyn’s movement when they’re rowing, the things he says and the assumptions he makes about her. We’re given full descriptions of the movements, right down to the fingers. Riley delivers this in precise, deceptively simple prose that gives a striking portrayal of relationships.
There are moments of tenderness between Neve and Edwyn, such as the pet names they call each other, their declarations of love and some hugs, but the bad times are what really resonate throughout. At times Edwyn’s behaviour is nothing less that monstrous. He kicks off at minor things, causing Neve’s voice to go timid as she withdraws into herself. At these times the life is draining out of her while Edwyn is powering up. There’s a particularly sickening scene that tells us about how he treated her after she got drunk. We find out more about Edwyn’s illness throughout the book and how Neve handles this and the way she work around things.
Her mother is quite an unusual character. There’s scenes of them going to the cinema together, with her mother not allowing Neve to sit beside her as she usually goes alone. We’re told of how she keeps herself busy but doesn’t really make friends. She certainly appears to be a bit of a motormouth as she has a series of long monologues, with her conversations with her daughter probably representing good chances to get a lot of chat out of her system.
Her mother thinks she knows how to relate to people better than Neve does. Neve certainly says to Edwyn on numerous occasions that she can survive on her own and the idea of freedom is something that recurs throughout the book. Neve questions whether there is something about her that horrifies people but she appears to have been dealt a rough hand in life in terms of the men that have played a key role in her life. This includes her father, a man that quickly flew into rages, made her brother ill and shamed her at points.
First Love brilliantly assesses the nature of love. It looks at the way this can represent different things and how it can sometimes just be an idea of love that’s present. There’s sense of loneliness throughout with people having to plod their own course and find ways to distract themselves from their daily situation. It highlights the way one incident can take over everything, constantly being brought up over the course of a relationship. This short book can easily be read in a single sitting, managing to pack serious power into its pages but its ideas and characters will continue to resonate.
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