First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Delighted at last to discover the writing of Gwendoline Riley and her latest novel First Love which you may think could well be a love story, actually this is something yet more terrifying in an all-consuming little book that I devoured on a train journey to London at times brutal and visceral we see a couple’s marriage falling apart and every sinew of human emotion exposed on every page.
We are introduced to Neve who is a thirty something writer and she is married to Edwyn who is older and is suffering from an illness which means he is pain a lot of the time and this is something that is constantly there. To understand Neve we have to turn the pages of time back to when she was a child and watched her parent’s marriage fail and then the ensuing divorce. Neve decided that she wanted distance from both parents especially her bullying father yet at the same time she cannot cut the ties with him. By the time she was in her twenties alcohol played a part in her life and bounced through friendships and partners and yet there is a sense of loneliness at the same time even when she spent time France.
Now with Edwyn that sense of loneliness is still present as Edwyn is a controlling character who recognises that he can control Neve by throwing childish tantrums to get attention and can become moody at the toss of a coin, there is obviously something missing from this marriage and that is Love in all its forms. For Neve one senses that she misses any form of affection as there is nothing there even sex is non-existent in the marriage. Is the Neve’s family past being played out in their own marriage or is this just Edwyn covering for his own failures and is he trying to get Neve to just accept that that is the best she is going to get in life? Despite the gloomy scenario there are some amusing parts in the story which Neve as the narrator takes the reader on the journey with her.
There is also a sense that you get when reading First Love is that Neve is not only trying to understand herself but the life around her and how best to cope as their marriage hits the rocks one minute then the next everything is OK.. She must have looked at her life as we look at a snow globe after it has been shaken.
First Love is one of those novels that is raw and human in that it exposes what life is like behind the closed doors of some people’s lives as we are invited into Neve’s world. At times it is shattering yet Riley’s writing is dazzling as she explores human frailties and at the same time incredibly moving.
Thank you to Granta Books for the advanced review copy.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley is published by Granta Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.