Review: Larchfield by Polly Clark

What I thought:

This beautifully and poetically written book is set in the small town of Helensburgh, Scotland in the dual time-frame of now (Dora) and 1930 (Wystan). Dora Fielding is a newly-married poet from Oxford and moves to the rather insular town of Helensburgh for her husband Kit’s job, while pregnant with their first child. Thrown into motherhood, and newly jobless and friendless in this small town by the sea, that seems to treat newcomers with not just suspicion but utter contempt, Dora finds herself becoming so isolated that she fears she has lost all sense of her former self and struggles to work out who she really is now. However, when she learns that famous and respected poet W.H. Auden (Wystan) also used to live in Helensburgh, Dora becomes fascinated by finding out more about him.

Back in 1930, Wystan is having his own problems with being an outsider when appointed as a teacher at the school Larchfield in Helensburgh, and worse than that an English one who dresses eccentrically and attracts rumours of being a pervert (or, homosexual to you and I) which is something that Wystan himself is trying to come to terms with in an age when it was not only not acceptable but illegal. Preferring a pen and paper to racing around a rugby field, Wystan is ostracised by most of his peers and finds solace in the friendship of a dying middle-aged woman and a private affair with a local man.

It isn’t clear, other than the themes of loneliness and unacceptance and survival, how Dora and Wystan will be thrown together until about half way through the book. Forced into her own fantasy to escape the reality of bullying neighbours and her loss of any sense of who she used to be, Dora forms a friendship with Wystan that allows her to escape her stifling and frightening reality. Apparently, the author based Dora’s experience on her own, having also relocated to Helensburgh with a small baby and anti-English feeling following her around and the isolation and frustration could be clearly felt through the pages.

It was obvious to me, reading this book, that author Polly Clark is a poet as the narrative is lyrical and tender and what felt, for me, a gentle and quiet read despite the themes: loneliness mental health, courage, bullying among them. It certainly didn’t feel like a debut novel and it captivated me from the start with its strong sense of empathy and humanity.

Verdict:

Larchfield was a book I felt I wanted to savour and not attempt to read quickly due to my ever-increasing TBR pile. It was a book I looked forward to getting back to when I wasn’t reading it, not because it was a great thriller or mystery and I needed to know what was happening, but because I was happy in the company of the characters and the gorgeous prose.

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Have you read Larchfield? What did you think?

Review: Sealskin by Su Bristow

SealSkin-Vis-3.jpgWhat I thought:

Have you ever read a book where, when you turn the final page, you are simultaneously enraptured, enchanted and bereft at having to leave the characters right there on the page and carry on without them? This is that book.

Inspired by the legend of Selkies (seals who can transform into people) and set in a small fishing village in Scotland, this is a book about love, redemption and an awakening, all with a sprinkling of magic. Donald is a young man who is always on the outside, preferring his own company to being among those who mock him and one day, while out on the seas, he is involved in something that will change the course of his life forever. The act is shocking and unexpected but it is a talented writer who can lead you gently in Donald’s footsteps as he learns to atone himself and allow the reader to begin to forgive him as he begins to forgive himself.

What did I love most about this book? Everything. Really, just everything. There was almost a childlike wonder to reading this book; a fairytale that bewitched and enchanted. It is the sort of story that I would want someone to read to me while tucked up under a blanket with a hot chocolate. That’s how it made me feel. I miss it now it’s over. I miss them.

Haunting and evocative with such fluid prose, this is a book of beauty and magic. I fell in love: with the landscape, the cast of characters and with the awakening of a whole village. I was there in the pages. I tasted the salt on my lips, I felt the wind whip through my hair, I felt the bitter cold of rain-soaked clothes and I felt the freedom of running through the grass with abandon.

Verdict:

This book is special.  January is not yet over and I already know that Sealskin will be in my Top 10 books for 2017. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know. And I will read it again. And again.

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NB/ Thank you to Orenda Books for a copy of this wonderful book which I chose to read and review honestly.

Review: The Mountain in my Shoe by Lousie Beech

41i1oq8wzzl-_sx324_bo1204203200_What I thought:

I came to The Mountain in my Shoe with no expectations, only recently having heard of it. I instantly fell in love. The overwhelming feeling I had reading this book was what a breath of fresh air it was. Although classed as a psychological thriller, for me it felt worlds apart from the masses that are out there at the moment (for a start it didn’t have the words girl, sister or husband in the title) and there wasn’t the promise of a twist that I will never see coming (but that I end up guessing by a quarter of a way in). I loved the simplicity of the narrative but yet there was nothing simple about it at all; it was lyrical and exquisite and unique.

Bernadette loses three things on the same day: her husband (whom she is about to leave), 10-year-old Conor (a foster child she befriends and who disappears after school) and Conor’s Lifebook that she is looking after. Narrated in turn by Bernadette, Conor and interspersed with snippets from Conor’s lifebook, we learn of the events that lead up to this day and follow the efforts to find Conor.

This isn’t a traditional race-against-time plot to find a missing child, it’s so much more than that. It’s a revealing and heartbreaking look at a child’s experience of the care system and relationship with his real mother, and it’s about a suffocating and stifling marriage with a partner that controls every move you make. With complex issues such as mental health and abusive relationships, it’s  deeply moving yet incredibly sensitively executed.

Verdict:

A stunning book. I found it incredibly refreshing to read something so beautifully written and emotive. Despite the themes of the book, do not expect this to be a gloomy or tough read, it really isn’t. It’s heart-warming and life-affirming and I will be recommending it to everyone I know.

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Day 37 – A book that I still think about years after having read it

Memoirs of a smitten reader…

There are many books that don’t want to seem to let me go after I have finished those final pages; books that I can’t stop thinking about or that haunt my thoughts for days, even weeks afterwards. I love those books – the ones that get under your skin. However, how many of those book do I still remember years later? Yes, there are books that I look back fondly, even passionately upon, but it is a really special book that stays in my mind so vividly years and years later that every now and then I will be taken completely unawares when one of the characters sneeks into my head and waves hello.

One such book that has that effect on my is Memoirs of a Geisha which I read in the summer of 2003. I can clearly remember entering the Japanese tea houses and walking under the cherry blossom trees so much so that whenever I looked up from my book I was surprised to find myself still sat on a sofa in a house in Yorkshire. I was so emmersed in sayuri’s life for the few days that it took me to read it that I actually felt as though I’ve lost a friend once I had finished: I felt lost without her and her world. Even now, every now and then,  I find myself thinking about not only Sayuri but also Mameha, the Chairman, Nobu and even Hatsumomo and wondering what became of them.

Memoirs of a Gesiha is a breathtakingly beautiful book and one that will stay with me for a long, long time. And when I stop remembering…..I will read it again.

 

  Which books have you been able to let go of even years later?