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.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill – Review.

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About the Book

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with a difference. Set throughout the roaring twenties, it is a wicked fairytale of circus tricks and child prodigies, radical chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians and brooding clowns, set in an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss.
It is the tale of two dreamers, abandoned in an orphanage where they were fated to meet. Here, in the face of cold, hunger and unpredictable beatings, Rose and Pierrot create a world of their own, shielding the spark of their curiosity from those whose jealousy will eventually tear them apart.
When they meet again, each will have changed, having struggled through the Depression, through what they have done to fill the absence of the other. But their childhood vision remains – a dream to storm the world, a spectacle, an extravaganza that will lift them out of the gutter and onto a glittering stage.
Heather O’Neill’s pyrotechnical imagination and language are like no other. In this she has crafted a dazzling circus of a novel that takes us from the underbellies of war-time Montreal and Prohibition New York, to a theatre of magic where anything is possible – where an orphan girl can rule the world, and a ruined innocence can be redeemed.

My Review

I have never read a book like The Lonely Hearts hotel before. In honesty, I have to say that it took me quite a while to get into it. The physical, emotional and sexual abuse received by both Rose and Pierrot at the orphanage was hard to read. And the fantasy used to help Pierrot through it felt strange.
However, when they both left the orphanage I found it much easier to read. Rose was a character that I warmed to the most. I loved her resolve to make her life better. She was incredibly gutsy and loyal to almost everybody she met. Pierrot’s life was more heartbreaking. Apart from the time he spent with his benefactor his life was pretty much a downward spiral under the very strong hold of a heroin addiction. The minor characters were also strong. McMahon, the club boss who was determined to destroy Rose by control. Poppy, messed up and too young for the life she led and just wanting to be loved.
It’s very theatrical and dramatic. At times, it felt like a technicolour fantasy. All the descriptions of the stage shows, Rose’s scenes with the bear were all vividly described. But the scenes I enjoyed the most, the ones that felt more real, were the images of extreme poverty. The fight to survive at a dreadful time in history.
It’s a book that I’m pleased I persevered with. I enjoyed seeing how their lives altered as they got older and how each of them coped after the hardest beginning.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

You can buy the book at amazon or waterstones