Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681376905
Pages: 176
Publication Date: September 13, 2022

First Love

by Gwendoline Riley

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Neve is a writer in her mid-thirties married to an older man, Edwyn. For now they are in a place of relative peace, but their past battles have left scars. As Neve recalls the decisions that led her to this marriage, she tells of other loves and other debts, from her bullying father and her self-involved mother to a musician who played her and a series of lonely flights from place to place.

Drawing the reader into the battleground of her relationship, Neve spins a story of helplessness and hostility, an ongoing conflict in which both husband and wife have played a part. But is this, nonetheless, also a story of love?
gwendoline riley

Praise

Eloquent and compelling reading. . . . Riley’s brilliant ear for dialogue falls in an excellent British literary lineage that includes Henry Green and Barbara Pym. . . . Riley’s bitter precision, replete with dark humor, offers perhaps more reality than our saccharine culture wishes to contend with, and this may explain why her work is not yet better known in the United States. . . . We are fortunate when so gifted a writer illuminates, with such nuance, what life is like.
—Claire Messud, Harper’s Magazine

Very clever, very devastating novels that capture the excruciating separateness that can define our most intimate relationships. They are full of awkward, perfunctory dinners with family members, pointless rehashed arguments with lovers, and stunted catch-ups with old friends long outgrown. Improbably, they are also laugh-out-loud funny. . . . Her books stand apart.
—Rachel Connolly, Vulture

Riley’s prose is deceptively simple, drawing you further and further into the labyrinth of the self. . . 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, like viewing everyday objects through a magnifying glass, or miniaturism for existentialists. . . . Exquisite and combative.
—Joanna Kavenna, The Guardian

An exceptionally good novel. Compressed to the limit of viability and yet filled with startlingly memorable descriptions and images. . . An impossible little wonder of a book, terrifying and horrible. . . Alarming, provocative, almost antagonistic—the reader pitched against the writer in a redrawing of battle lines. Take up the gauntlet with Gwendoline Riley: it’s worth it.
—Alex Clark, TLS

Riley writes in pared-back, deceptively light sentences that twist and turn the emotional landscape almost imperceptibly. . . Witheringly precise, often funny. First Love says something very honest about relationships, and with an idiosyncratic style this sharp, who minds if it is not a departure from what has come before?
—Francesca Angelini, The Sunday Times

Emotion throbs through Riley’s spare, sharp prose. Her dialogue captures the cadences of contemporary conversation perfectly, her portraits are so nuanced that every character feels real, and she is funny and painfully true on the difficulty of honest communication. . . Riley’s examination of human relationships is bleak, yet her vision is so expansive, her analysis so blistering, that First Love resonates with a power that is bittersweet and highly affecting.
—Francesca Wade, Financial Times

Elegantly written; Riley’s prose [is] shimmering and luminous. . . Riley’s writing has always been clear, focused, still—rather like an Edward Hopper painting—but First Love is fuller, more refined, and underpinned by a suffocating tension. . . It shows a writer at the height of her powers, snaring her themes into a singular, devastating journey into the ungovernable reaches of the heart.
—Stuart Evers, Observer

Exquisite. . . Riley expertly frustrates the reader’s desire to create meaningful causal relationships. . . Searing.
—Philly Malicka, Sunday Times