Larchfield by Polly Clark – Review.

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About the Book

It’s early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she’s excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether.
Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected – rightly – of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears.
The need for human connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. Echoing the depths of Possession, the elegance of The Stranger’s Child and the ingenuity of Longbourn, Larchfield is a beautiful and haunting novel about heroism – the unusual bravery that allows unusual people to go on living; to transcend banality and suffering with the power of their imagination

My Review

I’m not a huge fan of poetry but when this surprise book post arrived I liked the sound of it. It wasn’t my usual choice of fiction but I do like to read something a little different. It did take me a while to get into but once I did, I found it a fascinating read.
Wystan’s story was the one that I enjoyed more. A poet who I had heard of but knew nothing about. So, as I was reading I was also looking for more information about him via the internet, especially his friendship with Christopher Isherwood in a 1930s Berlin. His character seemed to be very loyal to his few friends, and very supportive of his pupils. The chapters that concerned him were much easier to read.
Dora, herself a poet, was missing her life in Oxford. Life in Scotland was different to the academic lifestyle which she used to have. She was also struggling to cope with a premature baby and had a pair of very vindictive neighbours.
The account of a life in the 1930s where homosexuality was illegal and shameful and the account of a life in modern day where postnatal depression could easily be misunderstood gave plenty to think about. Both were fully aware of what people thought of them and Dora especially felt isolated and struggled to cope with the attitudes of people around her.
Beautifully written, it is at times unsettling with some of the attitudes shown towards both the characters  and the situation in Berlin. A captivating novel, by an author I would read again.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

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