This book is the reason I love the Twitter and Instagram/Bookstagram community. Without them I might not have had this book on my radar. When I read the review of a very trusted internet pal and fellow blogger I knew I had to get my hands on Larchfield. It sounded very much up my street and boy was it!
I don’t think I can do the book justice as much as Reading Selfishly did in her review here. This lady has all the words and ain’t afraid to use them!
I’ll try and assimilate some thoughts for you though! Otherwise what’s the point in me being a blogger eh?
1930’s Scotland and the poet W H Auden or Whystan Auden has just arrived at Larchfield a boys school to take up a teaching post for which he feels ill equipped. He has however taken his leave of London and is hoping to stay a fresh chapter of his life.
Fast forward to modern day and writer Dora and her husband Kit have just moved to Helensburgh after purchasing the lower level of a huge house known as Paradise. Dora is heavily pregnant and subsequently goes on to give birth to a daughter called Beatrice. Kit is a busy architect and Dora finds herself alone most of the time with the new baby. Kit and Dora have also become embroiled in a land war with their upstairs neighbours who are much respected in the small village. Dora finds herself more and more ostracised and isolated by her neighbours in the surrounding area and struggles to feel accepted into the local community. With all eyes on her, Dora feels judged by not only her local community but by healthcare professionals who question her parenting skills and the choices she makes for baby Beatrice.
Feeling incredibly alone, she takes herself off to the beach one day and finds a message in a bottle. Tossed into the sea seemingly decades earlier by an equally lonely Whystan Auden.
It simply reads: ‘I am a young man with light brown hair and a book of poems. Telephone Helensburgh 120 and ask for Wystan’.
Dora dials the number and from this point in her world collides with Wystan’s. Dora can seemingly visit for brief periods with Wystan at Larchfield and avail herself if his advice. An academic and poet herself, Dora uses her link to Wystan as the catalyst to start writing again.
I wasn’t really sure at first whether the meeting of their two worlds was spiritual, magical, paranormal or whether it was symbolising Dora’s declining mental health. In any event their relationship was beautiful.
Wystan is an adorable character and I felt greatly for his loneliness and the fact that he feels like he is an interloper at Larchfield and out of his depth teaching wise. He never really seems to settle and is often wistful for a life above reproach and judgement.
There is an incident nearing the end of the book where Dora leaves Beatrice in the car outside a shop. This leads to her spending some time in a mental facility. She has to make a decision about whether she should follow Wystan or return to her real life.
This book is everything I love. A dual timeline narrative, the claustrophobic life of a small community and the hugely different life in a bygone era. I’m always fascinated by the lengths people went to to disguise their sexuality and am often appalled by how homosexuals were treated back in the day.
The writing is just stunning and all characters are so real and fleshed out that I found it easy to empathise with them. This is the kind of book that remains with you long after you’ve closed it. (It also inspired me to do some Googling with regards to WH Auden too).
Just beautiful, highly recommended.
See you soon.
Bookish Chat xx
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