First Love

Gwendoline Riley
Granta £12.99
by SRB

Books of the Year 2018 – A Literary Advent Calendar

December 3, 2018 | by SRB

We’ve asked Scotland’s leading writers, booksellers, festival directors and critics to pick one, or two, books — published this year or in the past — that they most enjoyed reading in 2018. There will be new selections every day throughoutDecember — so keep reading for great ideas about what to read next and visit your nearest high street bookshop to purchase your Christmas gifts! Today’s selection is from Anna Girling.

Although published in 2017, Gwendoline Riley’s fifth novel First Love was shortlisted for the James Tait Black prize this year. I hadn’t read Riley before and I immediately started seeking out her other works (apparently Opposed Positions is what I should read next).

First Love takes its title from Turgenev, but the writer it most reminds me of is Jean Rhys (whose Good Morning, Midnight I have returned to this year). Both Rhys and Riley are excellent on female consciousness – and self-consciousness – and although Riley’s is a slender work, it is dense with keenly observed (frequently “toxic”) relationships and domestic details. I was particularly struck by the relationship between the narrator and her mother, and by the lies told by each woman (to themselves and each other). It is a long time since I have felt so completely immersed in a narrative consciousness – stopping reading required a disorienting wrench back to reality each time.

Anna Girling is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. She is currently participating in the Emerging Critics programme.

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