First Love by Gwendoline Riley
First Love, much like its narrator, Neve, is caustic, unsparing, occasionally funny and always perceptive. Neve, a writer in her mid-30s, is married to a self-involved older man and haunted by the death of her hateful father, described as “a tyrant child”. As her husband, Edwyn, accuses Neve in one of their unrelenting battles, “That’s the only relationship you understand. A man being horrible to you and you being vicious back.” Still, Gwendoline Riley’s brutal honesty and precise, evocative language open up the possibility of joy amid wreckage – with caveats. Love must be more than a case of “wanting to hear it back”. Riley exposes our savage impulses, and the regret that typically follows: “I don’t believe either of us truly meant to hurt each other in those ways.” Much has been made of Riley’s youth – she was 22 when she was first published, and this is her fifth novel – and of the autobiographical elements of her writing. Regardless of what inspired the material, the execution is luminous and dazzlingly brilliant.