Larchfield – Polly Clark – Published 23 March 2017 by Quercus Books

Confession time: I haven’t read any poetry since completing my A Levels, 15 years’ ago. In all honesty, it’s not a genre I ever consider reading and I don’t really know why. Polly Clark’s, debut novel, Larchfield, may be about to change all that.

Cleverly weaving the lives of modern-day poet, Dora, with W.H Auden, one of the 20th century’s most established poets, Clark has created gorgeous prose wrapped in a halo of poetic rhythm. Dora’s life is about to change beyond recognition following a move to remote Scottish town, Helensburgh. Newly married and pregnant with her first child, change is inevitable, but what Dora hopes will be a move to inspire, turns out to be a life from which she craves escapism. And escape she does.

We first meet Auden as semi-established poet. The year is 1930 and much like Dora, he makes the move to Helensburgh in the hope it will spur on his creativity. Larchfield, the independent boys’ school Auden finds himself ‘teaching’ at, is everything you’d hope a boys’ school would not be. Littered with bullies (staff and pupils alike), lacking funds, enthusiasm and any sense of welfare, it’s no place for the likes of Auden and anyone who dares sway from the text-book masculine image young boys are expected to emulate. A joke to both colleagues and pupils, Auden is no walkover, and leaves more an impression on these young boys than he dares to realise. His kindness towards Jamie, a lonely, sickly boy, is so selflessly genuine that Auden’s character traits, so publically mocked, are what serve him so well in this case.

Leading two completely different lives, Dora and Auden, share such fragile symmetry that collides perfectly through Clark’s imagining of their stories, past and present. And their first ‘encounter’ is the stuff of childhood fantasy. Who could resist a message in a bottle?

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As Dora battles to find her place in this new world, her hellish Christian neighbours’, Mo and Terrence, torment and plague her every move; much of which goes unnoticed, adding more fuel to the fire between Dora and husband, Kit. As a mum, my heart ached for Dora’s desperate and often cruel situation. So-called ‘support’ pumped full of hatred and pre-conceived notions about Dora’s choices as a mum, made me wince, especially knowing Clark drew on personal experience as a catalyst for this book – I sincerely hope both Clark and Dora put to bed any such criticism. My heart goes out to any mum facing any such ridicule.

Decades apart, Auden, is battling his own life choices. As a homosexual in the 1930’s, he is far from socially acceptable, despite his knack for conversation and thoroughly fascinating take on life. Trying desperately to seek his own escapism, he finds a friend in Larchfield’s, Daphne, the headmaster’s dying wife. A lady in need of uplifting, she takes an instant shine to Auden’s rather eccentric approach. Their regular meetings make for some beautiful and rather amusing scenes.

Clark has pulled off a debut novel that has not only struck a chord with me, but has fired up a desire to delve into the often-misunderstood world of poetry. In some ways, poems are the ultimate short story, crammed full of emotion, passion, shock, heartache. Perhaps poetry could provide that daily dose of escapism or realism, we all sometimes need?

 

This copy of Larchfield was provided for review purposes by Elizabeth Masters, at Quercus Books.

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Paula Hawkins – Into the Water (Release date 2 May 2017 – Doubleday Publishers)

Paula Hawkins has done it again. Into the Water, her latest thriller, is all I’d hoped it would be. Hawkins’ distinctive and free-flowing way with words once again takes the reader on a journey crammed full of suspense, anticipation and a wow-factor ending I certainly didn’t see coming.

Set in the quiet English village of Beckford, Into the Water, meanders and weaves beautifully from character-to-character both past and present. We first meet Jules, traveling back to Beckford following the sudden death of sister, Nel – it’s a place she’d hoped was firmly set in her past. As we are introduced to figures from a life Jules has tried to forget and the pain and anxiety this brings, she finally sees things a whole lot clearer than first thought. But is it all too late?

On top of dealing with the guilt and mystery surrounding Nel’s death, Jules is thrust into the role of surrogate mother to Nel’s teenage daughter, Lena. A feisty young woman with her fair share of complications, Lena provides a hot-headed narrative that Nel would be proud. Into the Water, is as much Lena’s story as it is everyone else’s, but I took a shine to her and was so willing Lena to come out less tainted than people gave her credit for.

As is so often the case with tight-knit communities, people start talking and people start believing. Hawkins’ ability to create convincing characters makes reading, Into the Water, so believable that you can’t help but get wrapped up in their tales and theories. There a few likeable characters in this story; everyone has such a troubled past or present that friendliness is all but void. But that makes wanting to get to the bottom of the gossip all that more vital. Men in positions of authority give opinions and show stature, but as with Hawkins’ highly acclaimed debut, The Girl On The Train, it’s the strong-minded female protagonists that show their worth.

Stripping back the murky waters of Beckford and its ‘troubled women’, Hawkins, in my opinion, so poignantly conveys the importance of family ties and talking things through. A simple miscommunication can carry such lasting affects and in the case of Jules and Nel, it’s simply beyond repair.

Into the Water, is a powerful read that will no-doubt cause more than a few waves throughout 2017 and beyond.

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This copy of Into the Water was kindly provided by Alison Barrow at Transword Books for review purposes.