Bailey’s Prize Short List 2017
Things did not go well between Gwendoline Riley and myself. I kept falling asleep while I was reading First Love. It might have been hayfever which caused me to be more tired than usual, it might also have been the topic and the way Riley approached it.
Main character Neve is the product of a destructive relationship between two dysfunctional parents. She tries to stay away from her parents but cannot prevent ending up with a man, Edwyn, who resembles her father. He might not be physically abusive, his verbal anthems are just as bad. He blames her for mistakes, in the meantime he leaves the reader thinking ‘you are an incredible manipulative bastard’. Because Riley choses to write from the perspective of Neve, it jars that she is not capable to free herself and leave this completely dysfunctional relationship. She does not appear to realize that she has married her father.
Large parts of First Love consist of conversations: between Neve and Edwyn, between Neve and her father, between Neve and her mother. As a result all the nastiness hits the reader directly, which is quite something to achieve as a writer. The second result however was that I felt no desire whatsoever to keep on reading. I was annoyed, almost nauseated whenever Edwyn was talking. Fortunately for me, First Love is not hefty, I reached its last page sooner than expected.
Mixed feelings about this novel. I recognize the quality of what Riley has written. It is undoubtedly a quality that you can piss your readers off. First Love is well written, I would have preferred it if I had enjoyed reading it.