First Novel by Nicholas Royle: a review

First Novel by Nicholas Royle: a review

First Novel by Nicholas Royle

Tonight I’m going to listen to Nicholas Royle talk about his latest book. Which gives me a choice. Either I write a review of his novel, First Novel, before I go, or I don’t.  To get to the Anthony Burgess Foundation, where Nick will be in conversation with Alison Moore and Gregory Norminton, I could walk straight down the A56 until I reach Deansgate railway station, where a left turn onto the B6469 will lead me almost to my destination, or I could work my way through the maze of shortcuts hiding behind the old and the new buildings of the centre before crossing under the shadow of the cranes in St Peter’s Square. There are unlikely to be any planes flying overhead, whichever route I decide upon. If any of this is unclear to you, then you clearly have not yet read this excellent novel.

First Novel is unsettling, enigmatic, although the opening appears straightforward. We may not know why lecturer Paul Kinder is dismantling his Kindle, but it seems like a reasonable action to take. The process is relayed to us with tactile particularity and by the end, as Kinder sweeps the pieces into the bin and reaches for a book to ‘feel the slightly rough fabric-like texture of the yellowed pages’, we don’t have to guess at where his sympathies lie. Then there’s a body. Is Kinder, an academic fighting the tide of modernity, on a quest to solve the mystery of the tramp in the undergrowth?

Dear reader, take nothing at face value. The roads of Manchester may seem to go in straight lines, but stop signs are concealed, the markings at junctions misleading and obscure. The story of the story in the story will double back to trip you up. Partly it’s the detail, lulling you into a sense of knowing everything: how can a setting so exactly, so minutely, evoked leave any space for concealment?

Similarities coil between this and other novels of unreliable narration: James Lasdun, Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster are all name checked, and the reason I can pick out their influence is because I was in one of Nick’s classes where the theme was first novels and in which all of these featured. I enjoyed First Novel more than Auster’s New York Trilogy, by the way. Also, for reasons that I can’t quite pin down, First Novel kept making me think of John Irving, particularly when the narration jumped into the sections of the student novel written by the unnerving Grace. We didn’t discuss John Irving in the First Novels classes, and the connection hasn’t been made by any of the other reviewers whom I have read or heard, which means that either I am extraordinarily perceptive, or I am wrong. You can choose.


For information about this evening’s event, click here

To buy First Novel, click here







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