Larchfield by Polly Clark

1. First lines. 2. Published 2017 Hachette Australia; Quercus Books UK (Imprint: Riverrun) 3. Larchfield School [Public Domain] via Wikipedia 4. Woman [Public Domain] via Pickpik 5. W. H.Auden By Carl Van Vechten – Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

There are two timelines. In the present day, Dora is newly married to Kit, and they are expecting their first child when they move to Helensburgh, Scotland. The second timeline follows W.H. Auden, a poet who lived at Helensburgh in the 1930s. After her daughter is born, Dora becomes lonely and depressed, and more and more isolated from friends in London, and even from her husband. She finds a connection with Auden, which threatens to push her husband further away.


“It isn’t until he looks up that his attractiveness becomes apparent. His blue eyes flicker with a lively intelligence that animates all his features. It’s as if one can see the thoughts playing in his mind. But this is an illusion; his friends will find they never really know him. Wystan is that terrible, isolating thing: unreadable.”

“Children were so much bigger than their size. They radiated – what was it? Need. They broke all kinds of rules, all the time, just by being alive.”

My opinion:

I really enjoyed reading about the poet W. H. Auden, and I thought the depiction of Dora’s slide into depression was very realistic. The back-and-forth timelines were handled well with clever segues to keep the plot flowing smoothly.

The Opinion of others:
  • Historical Novel Society: “This is a beautifully told story. Both W. H. Auden and Dora Fielding are captured with elegance and aplomb, and their dilemmas and struggles are movingly portrayed as they try to find a way of living within the constraints and pressures of society. It is simply a delight to read.”
  • Sydney Morning Herald: “beautifully written but not entirely convincing”
  • The Scotsman: “… it is not a work for which I would recommend a reader parting with money.”
Author: Polly Clark
Other editions:
Historical note:

Wystan Hugh Auden (1907 – 1973) was an English-American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. From 1930 for several years, he worked as a teacher at Larchfield school in Helensburgh, Scotland.

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