From “one of Britain’s most original young writers” (The Observer), a blistering account of a marriage in crisis and a portrait of a woman caught between withdrawal and self-assertion, depression and rage.
Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Publication Date: 2017 by Granta Books
First Love is a vicious, cerebral little book and apparently exactly what I needed to kick-start my recent reading slump. Reading Riley’s novel feels a bit voyeuristic at times and her use of dialogue really does a fantastic job of playing out the tension as the reader witnesses the day-to-day of Neve and Edwyn’s dysfunctional relationship.
Finding out what you already know. Repeatingly. That’s not sane, is it? And while he might have said that ‘this was how he was’, for me it continued to be frightening, panic-making, to hear the low, pleading sounds I’d start making, whenever he was sharp with me. This wasn’t how I spoke. (Except it was.) This wasn’t me, this crawling, cautious creature. (Except it was.) I defaulted to it very easily. And he let me. Why? I wonder now how much he even noticed, hopped up as he was. No, I don’t believe he did notice. This was the lesson, I think. That none of this was personal.
Despite the entire novel being told from Neve’s point of view, she doesn’t paint a picture of herself being a victim and this makes the novel feel even more threatening since it’s unclear how much she plays a role in their unhealthy dynamic or if she is just unclear herself how much she is to “blame” for Edwyn’s horrible treatment of her. It was gut-wrenching to read through these dialogues and see how easy it can be to become stuck in the continual cycle of an abusive relationship. She may love Edwyn but the reader is never certain of Neve’s recognition that her love for him doesn’t make his treatment of her acceptable or normal.
This is a stunner of a book and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of Gwendoline Riley’s work!