199pp. Granta. 12.99 [pounds sterling].
Gwendoline Riley's mordant fiction has won many admirers, and they will not be disappointed by this new novel. Her distinctive first-person voice, uncompromising and clear, is once more telling a story of baffled disaffection. Here again are the everyday settings--the cafes, flats, streets and kitchens where people fail to understand themselves, or to communicate with others. The pleasures of inventive plot are not in evidence. Instead, the exercise of exact observation, and an extraordinarily accurate ear for the rhythms of dialogue, seize the reader's attention. Riley misses nothing, and her icy evocations of dysfunction and distress are unforgettable.
These strengths will be familiar to Riley's fans, but this novel is not simply a re-enactment of her previous books. The hard-drinking and unsettled young women of her early work have evolved into the grown-up Bridget, who has a stable relationship with a sensible partner, and lives in a pleasant flat with their rescue cat. Her partner is called John; their cat is Puss. Nothing to see here. The unrelenting focus is instead on Bridget's connection with Hen, her disappointed mother, and on the deeply embedded reasons for their difficult history.
Riley's readers have met versions of Hen before --notably in First Love (TLS, February 3, 2017), her intense portrait of a poisoned marriage. Neve, the writer at the...