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Larchfield: The moving, gripping and wonderful debut about finding human connection

Polly Clark

6 Reviews

Rated 0

Fiction, Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Historical fiction

Winner of the MsLexia Prize, a beautiful novel about a woman's struggle with isolation and sanity woven with the story of the poet W. H. Auden

'Mysterious, wondrous, captivating' Louis de Bernieres

'We need the courage to choose ourselves' W. H. Auden


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.

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Praise for Larchfield: The moving, gripping and wonderful debut about finding human connection

  • Larchfield is that rarest of rare first novels - a book that actually achieves its great ambition. I found it so immensely readable; it's brainy, verbally acute and knowing, with an ingenious literary historical premise that it impressively (and artfully) carries off right in front of your eyes. It's work of considerable talent - Richard Ford

  • This is a mysterious, wondrous, captivating book - Louis de Bernieres

  • A story beautifully and passionately rendered - Margie Orford

  • Wonderful characters and set pieces - Di Speirs

  • The sense of danger hanging over the characters kept me reading until past midnight - Marina Lewycka

  • A deft and moving portrayal of isolation - Juliet Mushens

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Polly Clark

Polly Clark was born in Toronto and divides her time between Helensburgh on Scotland's west coast and a houseboat in London. Her poetry collections have between them won the Eric Gregory Award and been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Michael Marks Awards. Her first novel Larchfield won the MsLexia Novel Prize and was published in 2017 to critical acclaim. She has worked as a zookeeper at Edinburgh Zoo, where her fascination with Siberian tigers began. For Tiger she undertook a research trip to the remote Russian taiga, where, in the depths of the Siberian winter, at temperatures of -35C, she learned how to track wild tigers.

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