Serpent's Tail has pre-empted Primadonna Festival director and author C E Riley's "searing literary debut" novel, exploring the breakdown of a marriage.
Publisher Hannah Westlands pre-empted world rights in the novel from Sophie Lambert at Conville & Walsh. The novel will be published in August 2022 as a lead title.
Is This Love, which never reveals the main character's gender, is the story of two people who fall in love and then drift apart. When J’s wife leaves, J is left wondering why. "How could someone you loved so much send divorce papers accusing you of terrible things, things you know you never did?" the synopsis asks.
"Narrated by J in the days, weeks and months after the marriage collapses, and interspersed with the departed wife’s diary entries, Is This Love is an addictive, deeply unsettling, and provocative novel of deception and betrayal. As the story unfolds, and each character’s version of events undermines the other, all our assumptions about victimhood, agency, love and control are challenged — for we never know J’s gender. If we did, would it change our minds about who was telling the truth?"
Westland said: "I read Is This Love in one sitting, gripped, devastated and disturbed. It is a brilliant, forensic exploration of the mysteries at the heart of all relationships, and the difficulty of ever truly knowing another person. It pressed me to interrogate my assumptions about gender, power and responsibility, and left me thinking long after I’d finished the last page. With echoes of Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dream House, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, Is This Love is a superb debut novel by a writer with a bright future ahead. We couldn’t be more excited about publishing it."
Riley, who has previously published two works of non-fiction, said: "We all think we know what love is, but what if we’ve got it wrong? Is This Love is about the human capacity for self-deception, for writing love stories that we can’t make real. I’m so grateful to Serpent's Tail for publishing this story, and want readers to get to the truth at the heart of it: that love hurts, but it can also heal."