Tuesday, 30 May 2017

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Intense, short, focused and poetic, the subject matter is a relationship souring with disappointment. Riley draws us into the character of Neve, a writer whose gaze is turned inwards.  

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 terminal. 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."

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Sky is Changing by Zoe Jenny, String Bridge by Jessica Bell, Cold Water/Sick Notes by Gwendoline Riley

Avoid if you don’t like: Introspection, repetitive behavioural patterns, langour

Ideal accompaniments: A pot of camomile tea, a tin of toffees and Don't Speak by No Doubt

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon

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