First love by Gwendoline Riley


This book was short-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017

It was specifically read by Warwickshire Super Reader’s group, as part of their official shadowing of the Bailey’s prize.

The book is a very slight one, and was unilaterally disliked by the group. This is what some of us thought of it :

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, and 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


I read this novel as part of the Warwickshire Super Reader’s Group who are shadowing the Bailey’s prize. While I did not find it’s themes and characters very easy to relate to, it was a novel which 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  Girl on a Train, without any thriller aspects. I would give it 2.5 stars.



From my point of view [First Love], it’s never a good thing to finish a book , and then think “ what was that about? “ I liked the writing style, but didn’t feel I’d gained anything from reading the book. There was too much left out for my liking, so it was difficult to understand why Neve behaves in the way 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 have liked a book to be longer, but some back story about the relationship with Edwyn would have been of benefit, and I was unsure how to come to an informed opinion, without knowing the reliability of Neve’s perspective.


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.

This is a well-written book, in the sense that the writing flowed, and some of the descriptions were excellent, and gave a real feeling of 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 character’s relationships with each other, were either shallow or abusive. The plot was puzzling, or maybe there was just no plot ?It is a short book, and I am part of a shadowing group so I read it twice. I was more confused of the timeline of the plot, on second reading than on first, and was even more repelled by the characters. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, and can’t understand how it got on the Bailey’s shortlist…I really hope it doesn’t win…..


Well, it didn’t win— The Power  by Naomi Alderman did!  However, if you and your group want to read First Love, we now have a small reading group collection available. Let us know what you think!



Interested in joining the Warwickshire Libraries Super Readers Group? Contact for more information.