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Review of Larchfield

March 29, 2017

Review of Larchfield

This is a highly original debut novel about alienation and isolation, and the struggle to find yourself a place in a community when you are an outsider. The author Polly Clark is an English poet who was born in Canada, and she draws on her own experience of moving to the remote town of Helensburgh in Scotland to write the book, which is set in the town. In the private boys’ school at Helensburgh, Larchfield, (now the co-educational Lomond School), the famous poet W.H. Auden taught, from 1930 to 1932. 

"dual narrative..between the story of Auden..and the contemporary story of Dora"

The novel has a dual narrative, which moves between the story of Auden in the 1930s and the contemporary story of Dora. Dora, a poet with a degree from Oxford, has just moved to Helensburgh, with her new husband Kit, and is heavily pregnant with her first child. Kit is an architect who is beginning a new job in the town. He’s older than Dora and has been married once before, but his wife tragically died. They move into the ground floor of an isolated house called Paradise, which has a beautiful lawn and garden.

It isn’t long before Dora begins to feel oppressed and out of place at Paradise. Kit is away at work a lot and she feels alone. She is particularly irritated by her deeply religious upstairs neighbours Mo and Terrance Divine. They resent Dora and Kit because they believe that the ground floor of Paradise should have come to them, and they often have noisy friends round and play loud music. They let their friends use the lawn, which belongs to Dora and Kit, and shadow the house with their large boat, which they leave in the drive. Dora also feels disconnected from her old Oxford friends, now she has a baby and has begun a new life so far from her old one. But when she discovers that W.H. Auden was once a teacher in Helensburgh, Dora starts a new project, researching his life.

"an imaginative and memorable debut novel"

In 1930, Auden arrives at Larchfield to take up a new teaching job there, which has been arranged by his friend Cecil Day Lewis, who is moving on. Auden immediately feels out of place at the school and in the town, because he is English and a newcomer, because he went to Oxford, and because he is gay, at a time when it was illegal to be so. Many of the other teachers at the school treat him with contempt, but he does connect with the wife of the headmaster, Mrs Perkins, who is ill and dying. When he can, he escapes to Berlin for the summer holidays, to visit his friend Christopher Isherwood, but it’s clear that there are dark forces on the horizon in 1930s Germany. 

Told in alternate chapters from Dora and Auden’s points of view, gradually their so different, and yet so similar, stories converge in an unusual way. Can either of these characters find themselves and solace in the world of poetry and literature? Larchfield is an imaginative and memorable debut novel, from an exciting new voice in fiction.

Written by Ruth, Marketing

  • Larchfield by Polly Clark

    A beautiful and haunting novel which centres on human bravery and imagination. 

    View Book

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