Larchfield is a beautiful story of the shock of new parenthood and the loneliness experienced by outsiders in small communities.
A young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland. 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. *
What I thought of it
Larchfield is classified as literary fiction and is beautifully written but it’s a reasonably easy, pleasurable read. Polly Clark successfully weaves elements of gothic fiction and historical fiction into what is essentially a contemporary story of motherhood, creativity and mental illness.
The image of the tortured creative mind sits well against the backdrop of the unforgiving villagers in the harsh Scottish landscape.
Both past and present protagonists have recently moved from the cloistered, permissive world of a university town to the tight-knit rules-based community of Helensburgh.
Wystan uses his poetry to escape mentally; and his wealth to escape literally – albeit temporarily.
Dora, in the modern day, is trapped by the demands of a premature infant, abusive neighbours and a hostile husband who just wants her to ‘fit in’.
What transpires across the centuries is a redemptive story of broken minds trying to heal themselves and the enormous difference a little compassion and understanding can make.
Wystan is a wonderfully whimsical and – against all odds – optimistic character who balances out Dora’s comparatively dark and paranoid spiral.
I highly recommend this to fans of Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House and anything from the Bronte sisters.
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* From the official publisher blurb.