‘Considering one’s life requires a horribly delicate determination, doesn’t it?’ asks Neve, the narrator of Gwendoline Riley’s slim fifth novel. In the course of an unromantic, ruthlessly exact examination of Neve’s marriage and family history, Riley shapes the narrative into an answer. One might say it takes a similar determination to choose a title shared with novellas by Turgenev and Beckett, but First Love – of a piece but never derivative – has earned their company.
Neve, a writer in her thirties, has recently married her older partner, Edwyn, ‘against both of our instincts’. The novel begins with their routines and rituals of affection, which are quickly brushed aside by punishing riffs of dialogue: ‘I