Gwendoline Riley's novel First Love (2017) is about the relationship of the female narrator, Neve, with Edwyn, and how the type of relationships she had with her mother and (especially) her abusive father play a role in it. Neve and Edwyn live in Edwyn's flat near West Brompton station in London. Edwyn grew up in Isleworth in west London. Neve mentions that "[her] parents' old flat was in Chiswick", also in West London. (Chiswick apparently has had some interesting residents, such as Alexander Pope, W. B. Yeats, Ugo Foscolo, Camille Pissarro, E. M. Forster and currently Peter Brook.)
From Edwyn's point of view, Neve comes from "the North": she grew up in Liverpool (Gwendoline Riley was born there) and studied in Manchester (like Riley); she also lived in Glasgow for a while. At the start of the novel, Neve's mother lives in Garston (Liverpool). In the chapter about her father's funeral, she mentions relatives living in Aigburth and Speke (both in Liverpool).
Names of suburbs, areas and streets are typically mentioned without specifying in which city they are, although that normally becomes clear when you read on. What is not clear, especially to someone from outside the UK, is whether these place names carry any special connotations, e.g. are they upmarket or (more likely?) working-class suburbs? Have they been neglected or are living conditions improving? Or am I completely barking up the wrong tree by looking for this type of information and associations?
The book does not contain any dates (as far as I can remember), but I assume the "present" is roughly 2017, when the book was published, and since the main character is in her mid-thirties (barely younger than the author herself), she must have grown up in Liverpool between 1980 and the late 1990s. The only clearly datable reference can be found in a passage where Neve thinks back to a past relationship and says that, at that time, she had bought tickets for the documentary Of Time and the City by Terrence Davies, which was released in 2008.
There are a number of reviews of First Love and relevant interviews, but they don't give me the information I'm looking for:
- Gwendoline Riley interview: First Love, The Skinny, 08.03.2017.
- Joanna Kavenna: First Love by Gwendoline Riley review – miniaturism for existentialists, The Guardian, 26.01.2017.
- Theresa Munoz: Little warmth in Gwendoline Riley's exploration of toxic relations, First Love, The National, 13.02.2017. (This review is not entirely accurate: it claims that Neve is a "successful writer", while the novel only mentions that she gets a fellowship for a few months in France, and that Edwyn "suffers from an unnamed debilitating disease" although the novel mentions fibromyalgia.)
- Nicola Presley: LITFEST 2017: meet novelist Gwendoline Riley & her latest narrator Neve whose marriage comes with a little black humour, marlborough.news, 18.09.2017.