- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Granta Books (2 Feb. 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1783783184
- ISBN-13: 978-1783783182
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 172,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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There is interesting insight during the scene when the main character realises how hard she’s trying to fit in with a difficult, troubled and obviously sickly man.
But it’s all frustratingly vague and, frankly, depressing. After completing it, I tried to figure it out but, in the end, the thinking that went into it didn’t justify me contemplating it any further.
I gave it two stars because there was an interesting theme being hinted at and some lucid writing.
This novel is as slight in content as size, so I was glad of the latter.
There are glimpses of brilliance –
wry description from principal character, Neve:
‘Bridie, my best friend, as was. Doggedly, affrontedly, long after we were sick of each other, that’s what we called each other’;
menacing dialogue between Neve and husband Edwyn about his father-in-law’s violence toward her mother:
‘‘…It’s very interesting to me. That she’d remember, quite so clearly, all of these…what might you call them?’
‘Accounts,’ I said.
He tilted his head, musing on whether to allow that.
‘Well, incidents,’ he said.’;
protagonist’s humorous portrayal of her father:
‘He had a waddling walk, being toddler-shaped: short legs, his stomach a full sail. Walking ahead, he’d lift his leg to fart and then turn to look at us with dog-like surprise. This was our father in a carnival spirit, but I do hope I’m giving credit to his range…’
- examples like those must account for this book making the Edinburgh Uni JTB Prize for Fiction shortlist (winner TBA at time of posting) but for me they don’t compensate for the whole.
The misery/abuse storyline is hackneyed, and jumbled timelines, settings and characters are confusing.
Structure may reflect content but the mother’s monologues, particularly in the middle section, are monotonous and the many repetitions of ‘baring teeth’ to indicate her smiling is artifice. We get the picture.
A smattering of French with no guide to meaning for the non-linguist, along with regularly interspersed unusual words which I can’t be bothered to look up, suggest the author is trying to be ‘literary’.
The self-absorbed narrator makes for a dull read. There are no fresh insights here.
If the author intended to dissect the marriage there wasn’t enough space spent on it. If the intention was to explore why a woman would enter and remain in a mutually warped relationship then parental modelling and failed first love are too simplistic to imply cause.
Ms Riley clearly writes well so I speculate the not-inexperienced writer didn’t know why she was writing this, and the result lacks focus.
As the book continues on, their relationship becomes more and more volatile, and it becomes clear they are definitely not suited to be with each other. The relationship is portrayed as very claustrophobic and confining, and Riley’s simple narrative style definitely imparts that to the reader. It’s a very fascinating read as we see Edwyn project his anger and self-loathing on to Neve, we see Neve have doubts about their relationship and begin to hate herself for continuing to stay with Edwyn despite how he treats her. There’s quite a lot of dialogue in the book, as there are only a few characters, the majority of the plot takes place in the conversations between the couple. The conversations flow really well, and seems very natural, and they definitely fit with the minimalist writing style.
This is certainly not a happy ending kind of book, and while it might not take you too long to read, it certainly gives you a lot to think about. The book was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I can completely understand why. It is hard hitting and sharply written. While it was a compelling book, I can’t particularly say that I enjoyed my time reading it. For me this was an interesting read, but did not draw me in the way that my five star reads do. I do definitely think it’s worth reading, and if you find yourself with a few spare hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon, First Love might just be the compelling piece of writing you’re looking for.
Although well written I felt it was terribly disjointed and confused in its direction or message
I forgot I'd finished it as it just fizzled out completely
The characters were not appealing and I was left feeling empty and depressed
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