Shiny New Books has undergone a revamp and now sports a new look! I’m over there today talking about Gwendoline Riley’s new novel First Love, published by Granta. Riley eschews plot, for the most part, in favour of a flashback-heavy atmosphere that focuses on the emotional life of her main character Neve. It’s stark, brutal, and elegant.
The New York Times Book Review runs a regular feature called By the Book, a kind of questionnaire for celebrated authors about their reading habits. Recently, the feminist writer Roxane Gay was featured. In answer to one of the questions—“Which genres do you especially enjoy reading, and which do you avoid?”—she replies, “I love literary fiction so long as it is not about (a) writers, (b) sad white people in bad marriages or (c) sad white writers in bad marriages.” Gwendoline Riley’s novel First Love ticks box c; it is about Neve, a writer from Liverpool, and her marriage to Edwyn, an older man. Their marriage is vexed, to say the least: there is some sweetness and canoodling, but an awful lot of it is harsh and even cruel. Yet what makes First Love more than just a story about Sad White People (trademark pending) is the way Riley preserves a semblance of impartiality. We’re not meant to feel sorry for Neve, exactly, or to see her as a victim; we’re meant to understand why she made the decisions that led her to this place, and why she makes the decisions that keep her here.
You can read the rest of the review here.