First Novel by Nicholas Royle

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First Novel by Nicholas Royle

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A tale of a mediocre novelist turned lecturer who enjoys conjugating more than verbs in car parks begins in an okay way. Then we can't put it down and then the twists darken deliciously. (Prudes, please don't be put off.)
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0224096980

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Paul Kinder lectures in first novels at a Manchester university and, coincidentally, he's also published a novel. Yes, just the one. When not working he enjoys various pursuits, including sex in car parks when offered the opportunity (i.e. not very often at all). (If the car park is on a flight path, all the better.) He personally doesn't see it as a problem, although not all his life has been problem free. No, indeed it hasn't!

The 'first novel' of the title doesn't refer to English author, critic and lecturer Nicholas Royle's output (which is satisfyingly prolific) but that of his flawed hero Paul. I almost described his hero as 'anti' rather than 'flawed'. However to be an anti-hero he should be at least mildly disliked, whereas, for reasons that will become apparent to you by the end of the novel, I just wanted to hug him better. (Maternally and nowhere near a car park, you understand.)

Speaking of which, please don't be put off by the car park shenanigans. It really doesn't happen that often and it's not dwelt on in any gratuitous way. The activity provides insight into Paul's character and his attempt to recapture a certain moment as Paul uses his present to somehow blot out a past of which we gradually learn.

To begin with for me, Paul's voice is very like Radio 4's Ed Reardon as he bemoans the deficiencies of modern day living and the problems of everyday university life. There is a slight difference however. Although Paul makes me chortle like the fictional Ed (at least till Paul's tone changes), Paul seems to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He obsesses over various things including photos of famous authors' desks so he can get some idea of their reading matter, just in case.

Gradually the mood does shift from the jocular as Paul takes us more deeply into his confidence. In fact I don't know if it's intentional, but this novel is an excellent experiment in reader/narrator trust. Indeed it also demonstrates that Nicholas is a very clever and utterly devious author in a good, good way.

Paul's narration is interwoven with one of his pupil's draft novels. The student's novel is naïve in style and content in places (as we'd expect) and seems a little oddly juxtaposed. Stick with it though - what begins as an entertaining, if clunky, diversion will make sense and more than justify its inclusion.

If you've read this far I feel I must apologise for writing this much and revealing practically nothing about themes, deeper meanings and plot development. I mean well; I just don't want to blow the surprises and (in some instances) poignant shocks. For instance I would love to tell you how the ending reminds me of the equally ingenious denouement in a certain movie from a few years ago but that would be meaningless without revealing which movie, which would, in turn, ruin everything!

Please let it be enough to know that Mr R is an author who knows how to turn our emotions on any denomination of coin he chooses. He also makes us read First Novel for a second time, so that we know from the beginning what we learnt at the end. At least that's what happened with me so I'm betting I'm not that odd. (At this point make your own jokes!)

A big thank you to Jonathan Cape for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If Nicholas Royle now intrigues you as much as he does me, perhaps we should both have a look at his personal choice of fiction in his collection of Best British Short Stories 2013

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