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I'd never heard of Gwendoline Riley or her spare, haunting novels before, but thanks to the New York Review Books bringing two of them to the United States this month, I am now a devoted fan. Both "First Love" (published in Riley's native England in 2017) and this year's "My Phantoms" are first-person narratives about familial relationships.

In "My Phantoms" the narrator writes about her fraught relationship with her difficult mother, a child of the '60s now twice divorced, drifting, lonely and, it must be said, annoying. But the deeper you get into the book, the more you wonder just how reliable that narrator is.

"First Love," shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize, is a simple enough story, but a devastating read. Narrator Neve writes about her life through her relationships — with her simpering, lonely, clingy mother; her monstrous father; her various lovers, and her current marriage to Edwyn, a man who is both needy and toxic. Their lengthy arguments — always prompted when Edwyn willfully misunderstands one of Neve's offhand remarks — are brilliant examples of escalating gaslighting and abuse. They are a horror to read.

How long will Neve stay with this man? How long can Neve stay? Her look back at what came before makes the fraught present ever more understandable. Both novels are poignantly sad, but both are sprinkled with crucial humor (usually at the expense of the hapless mothers). And both feel very, very true.


My Phantoms

and First Love

By: Gwendoline Riley.

Publisher: New York Review Books, $16.95 each.