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First Love

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,364 ratings  ·  220 reviews
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.
Paperback, 169 pages
Published March 21st 2017 by Melville House Publishing
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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Thirty-three-year-old Neve is trapped in a toxic marriage. As she recounts the corrosive relationships of her past - with her neurotic and self-centered mother, her short-tempered father, and a fickle ex-lover - the reasons for her inability to leave her husband, Edwyn, manifest in the form of distressing revelations about herself.

Considering one's life requires a horribly delicate determination, doesn't it
I read this book because it has been shortlisted for this year's Goldsmiths Prize, and it is my first experience of reading Riley. I enjoyed it, but it is not an easy book to review.

The narrator Neve, a writer, tells the story of her dysfunctional marriage to Edwyn, a manipulative and hypochondriac older man. Much of the book relates their many arguments. There are also interludes describing Neve's earlier life and her meetings with her needy mother, and her relationship with her abusive father,
Paul Fulcher
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: goldsmiths-2017, 2017
Now winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Fiction

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Aubade by Philip Larkin

Gwendoline Rile
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by:
This was a one-sitting read but I'm puzzling over contents vs. blurb. The husband seems to have mental issues and is abusive and I would not describe that as a couple who is "ill-suited." Told in fragments of different relationships in the woman's life. On the shortlist for the Bailey's Prize. ...more
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read, uk
Shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the Goldsmiths Prize for experimental writing, "First Love" is a rather short novel that will nevertheless haunt its reader long after closing the book. The story is told from the perspective of 35-year-old Neve who examines her relationship to the three most important men in her life as well as to her mother:

- There's her choleric and (physically as well as emotionally) abusive father who has always indulged in playing self-righteous pow
Peter Boyle
This is not a happy book. If you're in the mood for sunshine and rainbows I suggest looking elsewhere. In her Baileys Prize shortlisted novel, Gwendoline Riley examines the tangle of toxic relationships and the reasons why people remain in them.

Neve, a writer in her thirties, lives in London with her husband Edwyn, an older man. The marriage is not going well and they row constantly. Edwyn suffers from various physical ailments including a heart condition. He supports Neve financially and seems
Eric Anderson
Jun 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
It’s not often that I loathe a novel. Even if I don’t jell with a book I’ll most often quietly put it aside thinking someone else might get something out of it. But reading Gwendoline Riley’s novel “First Love” made me angry. You may think this strong emotional reaction would mean it’s worth seeking it out for yourself. You’re by all means free to do so, but I think you’d be wasting your time because I don’t think this novel has anything to say. The reason it stirs such malice within me is becau ...more
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now I'm really torn on this because it could a four star and indeed was earlier but I keep changing my mind. Neve is in an unhappy marriage with an older man, she is estranged from her family, how did she get here, through other actions or her own? That's what this book is really about. And it's quirky and clever, yet sometimes vague and that's where it excels but also falls apart a bit. See. Undecided. 3.5 maybe. ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
oooo no. If this is love I want no part in it. no ma'am. ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Now shortlisted for the Goldsmith to match its earlier shortlisting by the Bailey's prize - I have now re-read the book, but have little to add to my original review.

I thought of my mother, on the move. The energy for each flight, as for all of her lashing out, surely generated by the cowering cringe she lived in. Was I like that? Would I be? I’d hardly been unprone to impulsive moves. Dashes. Surges. The impetus seemed different, but perhaps it amounted to a similar insufficiency.

My father’s
" Considering one's life requires a horribly delicate determination, doesn't it? To get to the truth, to the heart of the trouble. You wake and your dreams disband, in a mid-brain void. At the sink, in the street, other shadows crowd in: dim thugs (they are everywhere) who'd like you never to work anything out"
A toxic marriage- Neve, our main character is thinking back to what led her to this marriage. Her childhood memories are of a father she loathed and was frightened of; her mother, a self
Ashley Stokes
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first novel by Gwendoline Riley I've read. It's a short book, more a novella, and in some ways it seems unfinished, which I'm sure is intentional and in some ways quite a successful narrative ploy. There's no story arc or real plot to First Love; it merely asks a number of 'whys?' of the reader. This maybe the point for some and the problem for others.

Neve is a writer in her mid-thirties. For fifteen or so years she's lived in a kind of limbo many writers will be familiar with: penu
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In First Love we follow Neve, a writer, across Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow to live in London with Edwyn. He, Edwyn, is crippled by anxiety and pain in his limbs. Neve and Edwyn marry. As the novel progresses Neve tells us about her past: an abusive and controlling father, whom she dreads visiting on weekends. Her self-involved mother who has just left her second abusive husband. Her brief romantic relationship with a selfish musician she saw no more than once or twice a year. Neve is nothi ...more
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up. Although also nominated for the Bailey's Prize, I didn't become aware of this till it was also nominated for the Goldsmiths. A quick, involving read, it is also for the most part, rather unpleasant, in its depiction of an abusive, dysfunctional marriage. Not quite sure what makes this Goldsmiths material, as it doesn't seem particularly innovative, nor advance the possibilities for the novel format, but I did get a lot out of it, and was fascinated how - if I am reading this corr ...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
What a strange, depressing little book. My thoughts are scrambled on this one. I can't tell if it's the kind of book that becomes brilliant on a second reading, or if it tricks readers into thinking it's saying something profound just by being so sparse. Its messages are relentlessly peripheral. But I thought the dialogue was great, and I also appreciated how much of a departure this was from the books I usually read. So pick it up if you're curious about it, and if you're not, skip it - it'll p ...more
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shortlisted for the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize

Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction Longlisted novel 4/16

I have to admit that books about domestic violence intrigue me, obviously I am totally against domestic violence but what puzzles me is the psychology of the abused and the abuser. At first I used to think that books about domestic abuse - Emma Donoghue's Room and Roddy Doyle's , The Woman who Walked into Doors, just to name two examples were grotesque exaggerations but as my social worker sister has
This had a kind of late-Nineties British grimness to it, like a Suede song without the drugs and dreaming of skyscrapers. And mostly i'm saying that because Gwendoline Riley has a Brett Anderson-ish quality to her cheekbones. It is fairly unremitting in its bleakness, loneliness, emotional manipulation, but there is something here that made me want to keep reading, and want to read more of hers. ...more
Jackie Law
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First Love, by Gwendoline Riley, introduces the reader to Neve, a writer in her thirties married to the older Edwyn who is preoccupied with his health following a myocardial infarction suffered before they met. Written in the first person the narrative explores Neve’s life and varied relationships with razor sharp insight. This is a story of the inherent need humans have to interact with others, and the hurt this creates.

“People we’ve loved, or tried to: how to characterize the forms they assume
Jonathan Pool
First Love is Neves story. Neve is an uncomplicated girl who makes the best of what life serves up. However any real intimacy is in short supply. Instinctive hugs, or cuddles, don't come naturally between family, friends or lovers in First Love.

It's Edwyn, Neve's husband, who is this (too short) book's most memorable character study.

Vile, vain, verbally vicious, utterly self absorbed, but, alas, all too plausible. It's not unreasonable for the reader to conclude that Edwyn is a bully and emotion
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 2017-goldsmiths
There are pet names, too. I’m ‘little smelly puss’ before a bath, and ‘little cleany puss’ in my towel on the landing after one; in my dungarees I’m ‘you little Herbert!’ and when I first wake up and breathe on him I’m his ‘little compost heap’ or ‘little cabbage’. Edwyn kisses me repeatingly, and with great emphasis, in the morning.

There have been other names, of course.

‘Just so you know,’ he told me last year, ‘I have no plans to spend my life with a shrew. Just so you know that. A fishwife
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Considering one's life requires a horribly delicate determination, doesn't it? To get to the truth, to the heart of the trouble. You wake and your dreams disband, in a mid-brain void. At the sink, in the street, other shadows crowd in: dim thugs (they are everywhere) who'd like you never to work anything out.

Author Gwendoline Riley conjures some neat tricks in the Bailey's Prize nominated First Love: When we first meet our narrator Neve (a thirty-something, not-quite-successful novelist), sh
Neve tells us about her testy marriage with Edwyn, a Jekyll and Hyde type who sometimes earns our sympathy for his health problems and other times seems like a verbally abusive misogynist. But she also tells us about her past: her excess drinking, her unpleasant father, her moves between various cities in the north of England and Scotland, a previous relationship that broke down, her mother’s failed marriages, and so on. There’s a lot of very good dialogue in this book – I was reminded of Con ...more
Beth Bonini
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a slight book - elliptical in tone, structure and plot line. Despite its brevity, though, it has the emotional impact of a punch to the stomach. I found it a very discomfiting read, even as I admired the author's close observations and undeniable way with words.

The narrator is Neve -mid-30s, a writer - who is married to the much older Edwyn. Edwyn has already suffered from a mild heart attack and he struggles with pain, particularly in his hands; at one point, the narrator mentions that
Jessica Reads & Rambles
This started off as a three star read but in retrospect it really was just 'ok'. I didn't get anything out of this, and even though I only read it mere days ago, I'm struggling to remember quite how it left off.

I got the feeling I was meant to be feeling sorry for someone, but for the life of me I couldn't work out who. None of the characters were likeable for me. I've also heard it said more than once that Riley writes very natural dialogue. If she does usually, this wasn't such a good example
interesting book about relationships and their different forms also our perceptions too of a loving one
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Riley captures the madness of verbal abuse with maddening accuracy. And the type of women who placate these needy monsters. Look forward to reading other books by her.
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Although they're not my favorite types of books, I've been known to enjoy novels that are primarily dense character studies and that contain only minimalist plots; but for me to really get into such a book, it needs to be almost perfectly done, full of such rich and complex characterization that I'm natura
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I like Riley's work, but could see that some might think it too self-centred, narcissistic maybe. This slim novel is about a 30 something writer struggling to cope with a marriage going awry (or maybe it will be saved) and her mother's eccentric life, written by a 30 something writer etc. etc. In contrast when I finished this I started 'Homegoing' which has the 18th C African slave trade as background (and foreground later) and bodies are piled up on top of one another. A different level of prob ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The blurb for this book describes a couple that is "ill suited" for each other. I find that misleading and disturbing. She is unstable and he is abusive and mentally ill. Ill suited is not the words I would use. But to get passed that this is an odd little book. It's the kind of writing that I normally love but I think because the story was so disjointed in the telling I had a difficult time connecting. My favorite parts were actually the ones with Neve and her mother. I'm a bit surprised to see ...more
For this slim a book 'First Love' is quite gruelling to read. Despite its at times beautiful language I didn't enjoy it and the withholding style left me wanting.

33-year old author Neve is in an abusive marriage with the older Edwyn (other reviewers have called it dysfunctional or unhappy, that doesn't quite go far enough in my opinion) and her past "relationship" (if it was even) to an American musician whom she saw once a year at best, and her relationship to her parents.

And while he might
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“... And I'd remember who I could chat to, and go back to them the next week, for some chat and some friendliness. That's what you do in life, isn't it?

At Marble Arch, we said goodbye. I stood and watched him go, head down, rushing. Oxford Street was so crowded. Edwyn hunched his shoulders, braced, dodged, and soon enough he disappeared.”
“He was twenty-eight then. I was twenty. What followed was strange. An attachment? A conviction? I make no case for it, either way. Or only this case: that it was based on nothing and fed on nothing. For the next three years we saw each other for a few days a year, that was all. Wet English winters. Black rooms above pubs... Rather he looked dull, resentful. His eyes in shadow; dark slots.” 0 likes
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