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. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.
It took me a very long time to get my thoughts in order about First Love. Despite being not even 200 pages, this was a very heavy read, and took me quite a while to get through. The book is very much a character study, and focuses on the relationship between our main character Neve (the book is told from her perspective) and her marriage to the slightly older Edwyn.
As the book continues on, their relationship becomes more and more volatile, and it becomes clear they are definitely not suited to be with each other. The relationship is portrayed as very claustrophobic and confining, and Riley’s simple narrative style definitely imparts that to the reader. It’s a very fascinating read as we see Edwyn project his anger and self-loathing on to Neve, we see Neve have doubts about their relationship and begin to hate herself for continuing to stay with Edwyn despite how he treats her. There’s quite a lot of dialogue in the book, as there are only a few characters, the majority of the plot takes place in the conversations between the couple. The conversations flow really well, and seems very natural, and they definitely fit with the minimalist writing style.
This is certainly not a happy ending kind of book, and while it might not take you too long to read, it certainly gives you a lot to think about. The book was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I can completely understand why. It is hard hitting and sharply written. While it was a compelling book, I can’t particularly say that I enjoyed my time reading it. For me this was an interesting read, but did not draw me in the way that my five star reads do. I do definitely think it’s worth reading, and if you find yourself with a few spare hours on a quiet Sunday afternoon, First Love might just be the compelling piece of writing you’re looking for.