Larchfield by Polly Clark – Book Review

Title: Larchfield

Author: Polly Clark

Genre: Literary Fiction, Dual Timeline, Mental Health

Blurb from Goodreads

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.

My Review

Sometimes a book captures our hearts and minds in the first few pages as this one did for me… 

And sometimes, sadly, that feeling is all too fleeting. 

This book had a premise that appealed very much to me. It primarily focused on a young poet, Dora, living in modern times. She had just left all she ever knew behind her and moved to Scotland with her new husband where she would give birth.

Running alongside Dora’s story was a fictionalised account of the time the poet W.H. Auden lived in Scotland teaching at a school, the titular Larchfield.

These two time lines unfurled simultaneously and as present day Dora became increasingly isolated in her new life thus causing her to lose herself so too did the loneliness of Auden greatly impact his views of the world around him and his poetry.

Like many people of my generation I first became familiar with the works of W.H. Auden from the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral‘Funeral Blues’ was recited at the ‘funeral’ and it is one of those amazing film scenes that will always live with me because of the beauty of the words of the poem (and John Hannah’s wonderful delivery) 

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”

from Funeral Blues by W.H Auden

Those words still get me every time I read or recite this beautiful poem.

Therefore, when I saw this title on NetGalley I jumped at the opportunity to request it because how could I not want to read a book so heavily inspired and influenced by Auden?

So I really wanted to love this book.

And early on I truly enjoyed it. There were some beautiful passages and I especially loved the character of Auden. He was so beautifully written. So sensitively drawn. It was great fun to imagine how much of this fictionalised character could possibly have been like the real man himself.

I also found myself warming to Dora in the early chapters. I could understand her; her needs and wants, her insecurities.

The writing was incredibly lyrical and the book was astonishingly atmospheric.

In fact, it was stiflingly so because somewhere along the way the storyline became too much for me. I became increasingly frustrated with the actions of the supporting characters, and I was unable to separate the writing from the seemingly never ending irritation caused by their actions.

Normally I quite like unwieldy characters but this time I felt too alienated as a reader. The descent into mental instability took too much out of me. Therefore even my love for the fictionalised portrayal of Auden couldn’t fully penetrate the modern day timeline and give me that rewarding emotional connection I was searching for.

I do think this author is immensely talented but unfortunately it seems that her writing style is just not to my personal taste.

And I feel I should emphasise that fact.

There is much to be admired in this novel if you are the right sort of reader.

I was unable to enjoy reading about the mental anguish and in many ways, I could not see the forest for the trees when it came to the overall book. Enjoy is the wrong word to use when discussing the fragility of the mental state of the characters in this book, some books are meant to be almost painful in their beauty. For me there was just too much pain.

Some things just aren’t meant to be I guess.

My Socials 

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