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.
It’s early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first tested. Newly married, pregnant, she is 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 Auden, brilliant and awkward at twenty-four, 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 human need for connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. 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.
You can read more about the Mslexia competition and the experience of winning here.
You can read the press release about Quercus’s acquisition of Larchfield for their literary imprint riverrun here.
You can see more quotes about Larchfield on the Quercus Larchfield page here.