Order for £15.29 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
First Novel, By Nicholas Royle. Jonathan Cape, £16.99
Wednesday 13 February 2013
First Novel isn't a first novel at all. Nicholas Royle has now written seven, plus two novellas and a story collection. He also curates anthologies, lectures in creative writing, and edits for a publisher. Only a man with prodigious talent, not to mention a capacity for multi-tasking, would even attempt a book of such monumental ambition. For this is a novel about novels, employing the techniques and tropes of the debut. Writing in both first- and third-person? Check. An unreliable narrator? Check. Plot twists and a mid-point shift that'll have the reader flicking back and forth? Check.
First Novel starts with debut novelist Paul Kinder, working on a follow-up while leading an undergraduate creative-writing course. Its subject? First novels. Obsessed with "the classic white spines of Picadors", Paul scours the shelves of south Manchester bookshops. Seemingly resigned to the either-ors of existence, Paul reaches for something meaningful: from life, and from art. In a case of one mirroring the other, he ends up buying a new chair, the same one that appears in a newspaper feature on writers and their methods.
What begins as a straightforward riff on a writer's sense and sensibilities soon switches to the story of Ray – an airman-turned-writer drawn to the homosexual milieu of 1970s London, and his son Nicholas – while interweaving excerpts from novels-in-progress. Everyone's got a book in them, and First Novel has several.
Any reader of First Novel can be forgiven for experiencing what Paul describes, critiquing Siri Hustvedt's debut The Blindfold, as "a strange sense of déjà vu". They know what happens next, but at the same time they haven't the foggiest. This is a novel that demands to be read more than once. As for those either-ors – "how a story can be either yours or somebody else's, how you can choose either right or wrong, how it can all either be very important or not make a f*** of a lot of difference" – 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.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Man to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia after ripping up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe
- 3 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Skrillex and Diplo's 24-hour DJ set shut down by police after 18 hours
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Drake matches The Beatles' record with 14 singles in top 100 chart at the same time
Aidan Turner interview: 'being a sex symbol is a little awkward'
Oscars 2015: Get a sneak peek inside this year's outrageous $125,000 goodie bags
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'