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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

First Novel

Nicholas Royle

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To purchase First Novel

Title: First Novel
Author: Nicholas Royle
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013
Length: 293 pages
Availability: First Novel - US
First Novel - UK
First Novel - Canada
  • A Mystery

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very well crafted, and cleverly turned

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A- 4/1/2013 Gerard Woodward
The Independent . 13/2/2013 Gavin James Bower
New Statesman A- 3/1/2013 Claire Lowdon
The Observer . 19/1/2013 Lucy Scholes
The Spectator A 9/1/2013 Simon Baker
Sunday Times . 6/1/2013 Trevor Lewis
The Telegraph A 17/1/2013 Philip Womack

  From the Reviews:
  • "(O)ne of the pleasures of the book is how deftly Royle accounts for this darkness, while managing to weave everything together. Patience with the plot is duly rewarded (.....) First Novel openly displays its influences (...) and just about every novel that involves some sort of metafictional trickery, such as Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park, is referenced. But this book is much more than a piece of ludic fiction-making." - Gerard Woodward, The Guardian

  • "Everyone's got a book in them, and First Novel has several. (...) First Novel is either far too clever for its own good, or far too good to be a debut. Which, of course, it isn't." - Gavin James Bower, The Independent

  • "Metafiction is no longer such a trendy drug, and a lot of these literary games feel hackneyed to the point of quaintness. But First Novel delivers its buzz by means of an older and much more powerful medium: plot. (...) First Novel is compelling for the same reasons as Dahl’s work is compelling: for its suspense, for its surprises, for its gleeful use of the macabre." - Claire Lowdon, New Statesman

  • "Royle is not simply piecing a jigsaw together -- his narratives slowly bleed together, offering illumination or muddying the waters. It's an intricate story with an unsettlingly noirish effect." - Lucy Scholes, The Observer

  • "Only a highly recommended reading of this book will reveal the author’s technical control of narrative strands and motifs (aeroplane noises and dogging being two main ones) which initially seem disparate, but ultimately cohere perfectly, or the fine characterisation, through which Paul, Nicholas and Grace are revealed gradually, becoming clear to us properly only at the end. First Novel is a clever book, but as well as having brains it has guts: it begins slowly, but soon acquires the characteristics of a thriller, and the ending is a revelation." - Simon Baker, The Spectator

  • "The effects are mesmerising and heart-wrenching. As a narrator, Kinder fills his prose with eithers and ors. Every moment is a decision: as the writer is writing the novel, it could go either way; as we act out our own lives, every possible moment could go in any direction. As a comment on the creative-writing industry, there are some dark suggestions – it is murderous, and even a tool of revenge. There are keen observations, too, on the writer's life in general. But what is really so good about First Novel is that it plays with its readers, challenging, provoking us; we're never sure where our sympathies ought to lie, for example. (Why should we have to like people in novels ?) This is a finely honed work of sophisticated gaming that flirts with truth; yet it never forgets that it's also a plot-driven fiction." - Philip Womack, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       First Novel is billed as A Mystery, but is certainly not your usual by-the-numbers genre novel. It's an air of mystery that dominates, rather than the usual arc of crimes and (re)solutions, but First Novel is, in its own way, a novel of investigation, and the way the (long obscured) puzzle ultimately comes together should also satisfy those hoping for traditional genre-satisfactions.
       First Novel is narrated by a creative writing teacher called Paul Kinder who lives in Manchester. He did publish a novel, but it's now long out print, and his current writing credits are just for the newspapers, review-articles on: "Food. Books. Art. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades". He has a fascination with first novels -- in particular, he notes: "I'm interested in first novels that have been lost or suppressed or never followed up" . So also, all the books he assigned his current students are first novels, and they fill his shelves.
       Paul's narrative is simple and straightforward. Short sentences, a sequence of actions and events described piece by piece by piece -- plodding, in a way. Much of the time, relatively little of significance seems to happen in his account of what he's living through, and he devotes considerable space to a variety of obsessions and interests -- such as with The Guardian's Writers' rooms-series, as he describes and considers many of the depicted rooms (perhaps in the hopes of finding inspiration in imitation, as he even purchases a Herman Miller Aeron chair: "It is the chair that Geoff Dyer, Alain de Botton, Francesca Simon and Siri Hustvedt all use"). For a while he works at removing ivy from his backyard, unearthing a rockery. He drives around a fair bit, and describes his routes; First Novel is often literally a step-by-step story. Planes flying loudly overhead figure prominently.
       There are interactions with others, including his students, both in some one-on-one sessions, and then at a 'Residential', a planned one-week retreat (that he has some trepidations about going in: "Invariably on these residential courses there is one nutjob. There is rarely more than one, but there is always, always one"). There is his new, pushy neighbor, Lewis, who seems to splutter -- "Kssh-huh-huh" -- with every sentence. And there are the occasional sexual encounters.
       Paul was married, but the connection to his wife and twin children is long lost. Three creepy mannequins sit, like stand-ins, in his window -- and, indeed, as he slowly reveals the story of what happened to his family, it's clear it was an emotionally wrenching break. And just how wrenching, and just how much of a break it was is only eventually revealed .....
       Interspersed with Paul's narrative are samples of some of his students' work. In particular, episodes from a longer work by Grace. Her story begins with airman-turned-poet and absentee father Ray, a story that turns out to be multigenerational; wending its way, the focus shifting from Ray to his son -- whom his parents raise -- and beyond, it's long unclear where the story is going. As it turns out, both it and First Novel are going somewhere very specific, making for surprising -- indeed shocking -- resolutions; Royle plays with suspense differently than most mystery-authors do, but the pay-off is then all the more effective.
       First Novel is a novel of resolutions -- pieces fitted into place -- but along the way there's a great deal of irresolution. Paul, in particular, is a man who seems to live on crossroads, his narrative filled with either/or propositions, the choices we make -- "Either I stay a bit longer or I leave". Paul has made some bad choices, and some of them haunt him. Royle handles this very well: First Novel can long feel opaque, but it's ultimately quite crystal clear, and the way the fiction comes into focus is very neatly done.
       Paul insists: "Metafiction isn't one of my specialist areas", but Royle, a creative writing teacher in Manchester, teases some with this, not least with the incidental appearance of real-life people here and there. (So also, Paul describes trying to place an article about Vincent de Swarte's Pharricide (with little success: literary editors apparently not: "interested in articles about untranslated foreign-language novels that are not set to become the latest publishing sensation") -- a novel Royle himself has, in the meantime, translated and published .....) Metafictional games do feature in First Novel, but, typically, also in an unexpected way, Royle here too moving beyond the usual and expected.
       It makes for a satisfying read -- though there are a few deeply disturbing parts to it (but they belong, as well). First Novel is an accomplished work, by someone with a fine understanding of the craft -- clearly, also, not a first-timer.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 March 2020

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First Novel: Reviews: Nicholas Royle: Other books by Nicholas Royle under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Nicholas Royle was born in 1963.

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