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First Love

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

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By Gwendoline Riley

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10 reviews

‘A singular, devastating journey into the ungovernable reaches of the heart’ Observer


Neve is a writer in her mid-30s married to an older man, Edwyn. For now they are in a place of relative peace, but their past battles have left scars. As Neve recalls the decisions that led her to this marriage, she tells of other loves and other debts, from her bullying father and her self-involved mother to a musician who played her and a series of lonely flights from place to place.

Drawing the reader into the battleground of her relationship, Neve spins a story of helplessness and hostility, an ongoing conflict in which both husband and wife have played a part. But is this, nonetheless, also a story of love?


08 Jul 2018


An exquisitely well written novel about the vagaries of love. There's no real plotline but rather an exploration of Neve's relationships - with her parents and with former lovers - as she also tells us about the changing (or changed) relationship with her husband. It makes for uncomfortable reading as the relationship moves rapidly from its early romantic intensity to its current state of toxicity where the couple appear actually to dislike one another. The venom from her husband is positively abusive. The focus on the details of relationships is what makes the book so readable and also so difficult to read. Recommended unless you're looking for escapism or a feel-good factor.

27 May 2017

This is a well written book, in the sense that the writing flowed and some of descriptions were excellent and gave a real feeling for how the characters interacted with each other. However, none of the characters were at all sympathetic. Some of them, in particular the narrator, seemed to choose to be victims. The characters' relationships with each other were all either shallow or abusive. The plot was puzzling, or maybe there just was no plot. It is a short book and I am part of a shadowing group for the Bailey's prize, so I read it twice. I was more confused by the timeline of the plot on second reading than first and was even more repelled by the characters. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone and can't understand how it got onto the Baileys prize shortlist. I really hope it doesn't win ...

25 May 2017

Meg Sanders

I found this a very uncomfortable read. The writing is very accomplished and beautiful at times but the interaction between the characters makes for a painful reading experience for anyone who has been involved in a coercive relationship. The atmosphere is claustrophobic and unrelenting. I was quite glad it was short, to be honest. It was too much for me.

24 May 2017

From my point of view, it's never a good thing to finish a book and then think "what was that about ?'.
i liked the writing style but i didn't feel that i'd gained anything from reading the book. There was too much left out for my liking, so that it was difficult to understand why Neve behaves in the way that she does. Having said that, there was a lengthy discussion at our book group but a fair amount of that was negative reaction to the book. However, we did carry on and discuss some of the issues raised about abusive relationships. It's not often that i would like a book to be longer but I think that some back story about the relationship with Edwin would have been of benefit and I was unsure how to come to an informed opinion without knowing the reliability of Neve's perspective.

24 May 2017

I read this novel as part of the Warwickshire Super Readers Group who are shadowing the Baileys's Prize. While I did not find its themes and characters very easy to relate to it was a novel that provided much fodder for discussion in a group setting, which is quite an important factor in terms of choosing books for reading groups.

Certainly not a personal winner for me as I am not that drawn to novels about relationships. There also did feel a few aspects inspired by Paula Hawkin's The Girl on the Train without any thriller aspects. It is one I would give 2.5 stars to..

23 May 2017


This book is being read by Warwickshire Super Readers, shadowing the Bailey's Prize.

A strange cold book, not badly written , but unpleasant, with nasty characters, and no story line. A confusing tale of anecdotes and psychological abuse by all the characters, not just Edwyn.
A story of a marriage, with no reason or resolution.
There is no beauty in this book, or even optimism and hope. Just a gruelling read, ( thankfully a short one)
Difficult to see why this book made the shortlist

22 May 2017

Vicki Goldie

Well I have to confess to being flummoxed with this book. It is beautifully written but I did not get it. None of the characters were appealing. Nothing very much happened and we were left with huge questions and holes in the plot. Why did she marry Edwyn? Why has she stayed married to him? Why is she so nasty to her mother? Why why why and to be honest I didn't care. Please explain what am I missing?

18 May 2017


First Love is the shortest of all the books selected in the Baileys Prize 2017 shortlist but this does not make it any less powerful.

Gwendoline Riley writes in a sober and sad style. There is a resignation about life that exudes from the main character who narrates in first person.

Neve, is stuck. She drifts through her life with a husband who at times could be considered abusive and whilst she does have thoughts about changing her circumstances she is plagued by a James Joycean sense of paralysis.

What makes this novel stand out though, is it’s beautiful poetic prose. There are times when it could almost be read as an epic poem or a powerful piece of spoken word. Riley holds nothing back, exposing the very inner being of Neve, how she became the woman she is and how she is powerless to stop what is happening to her. It is an extremely uncomfortable read and one that ends in a stomach-twisting way. An intense and oppressive read.

Is this a commentary on the Western version of common modern love? No – this is a trail of consciousness from a woman who believes that she does not deserve love.

17 May 2017

This really proves the adage that you shouldn't judge a book by the cover. The endorsements and blurbs on the back really made me nervous of the book but the subtle story telling and shades of grey in the best sense made for a rewarding read. A deceptively simple and slim volume.

05 Apr 2017


This is an emotional gut punch of a book. It is so immersive and uncomfortable, and yet you'll want to consume it in one sitting. A must read and discuss book.

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