*Reeling In The Years: A Review Of Polly Clark’s Larchfield…

Larchfield-300x467If you believe the reports that attention spans are in terminal decline then it must be more important then ever for a writer to grab readers’ attention from the off, to avoid their eye moving to the next Amazon recommendation or Sunday supplement review as they try to complete the Sisyphean task of keeping up to date with the new. This struck me as I read the early chapters of Polly Clark’s ‘Larchfield’. Few novels have an opening as arresting as it has, using imagery and language as visceral as it is unexpected. It’s a novel that, like its two central characters, refuses to be ignored

Clark takes the two years that the poet W.H. Auden spent teaching in Helensburgh at Larchfield Academy as the basis for her book. There are two stories to be told, at first distinctly individual before beginning to overlap. The first unfolds in the chapters named ‘Wystan’, Auden’s Christian name, and is a fictional account of his life at the school. Leaving the literati of London just at the point he is starting to be known as a poet, he feels compelled to escape due to a mix of controversy and personal crisis; his coming to terms with his sexuality as important a reason as any other. When he arrives to take his role at Larchfield, replacing his friend and fellow poet Cecil Day-Lewis, he finds his reputation has somewhat gone before him. Continue reading