Literary Wives is an on-line book group that examines the meaning and role of wife in different books. Every other month, we post and discuss a book with this question in mind:
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
Don’t forget to check out the other members of Literary Wives to see what they have to say about the book!
- Kay at What Me Read
- Emily at The Bookshelf of Emily J.
- Lynn at Smoke & Mirrors
- Eva at The Paperback Princess
First Love has been nominated for five different major literary prizes, including the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
Goodreads synopsis: Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.
Overall, I liked this book, but didn’t love it. Neve’s relationships with her mother, with Michael and with Edwyn were all interesting to read about, but I found that they didn’t mean enough to me. I just felt sorry for everyone, and nothing seemed to get any better.
Poor Neve had a crappy father, a crappy step-father, a crappy experience with her first love, Michael, and is now in a crappy marriage with Edwyn. How did their marriage even come about? It either wasn’t made clear, or I missed it.
Neve’s relationship with Edwyn was the most fascinating part of the novel, but I didn’t find enough time was spent on it. Big chunks of the book were taken up by Michael (the first love of the title?) and her mother. Her mother might have been an interesting character, having come through two bad marriages herself, but for some reason I didn’t care about her. And if Michael was supposed to be significant in Neve’s life, he should also have gotten more page time. On the page their relationship was too short to care about.
So far, I sound like I’m pretty down on this book, but there were certain scenes I was fascinated by, usually between Neve and Edwyn. I could picture them so perfectly together, having their discussions, watching Neve shrinking smaller and smaller into herself as Edwyn twisted everything she said and used it against her. The dialogue was fantastic. And Edwyn was disturbing – the way he could switch from loving and affectionate to accusing and critical and downright abusive. Neve would defend herself (mildly, but determinedly) at first, but it didn’t matter what she said, Edwyn could out-talk her every time, until she would just sit there and take it until he was done. He was clearly the one who was off his rocker, but he was so confident about it being the other way around it’s easy to see how he might be able to make Neve doubt herself after a while.
And while he might have said that this is ‘how he was’, for me it continued to be frightening, panic-making, to hear the low, pleading sounds I’d started making, whenever he was sharp with me. This wasn’t how I spoke. (Except it was.) This wasn’t me, this crawling, cautious creature. (Except it was.) I defaulted to it very easily. And he let me. Why?
On the other hand, when Neve and Edwyn were getting along, they were sickeningly affectionate, calling each other pet names like “pusskins” (gah!).
So it was both strange, and dreadful – I knew it – to feel that I was managing him, in a way. Beyond bringing him out of himself, or my genuine interest; that I was maintaining this keen and appreciative front as a way to keep him calm, or to distract him. Like – I don’t know – throwing some sausages at a guard dog.
So what keeps Neve from leaving him? Does the good outweigh the bad? Does it ever, in any relationship? Should it?
It seems I came away with more questions than answers from this book. Maybe the other Literary Wives can help me out.
Next: Monday, October 1st – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones… Join us!