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A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr

A Month in the Country (1980)

by J. L. Carr

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,466787,367 (4.17)360
  1. 30
    Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy (Jannes)
    Jannes: Under the Greenwood Tree was according to the Carr's own foreword one of the main inspirations for A Month in the Country
  2. 10
    Maurice: A Novel by E. M. Forster (1502Isabella)
  3. 10
    What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (KayCliff)
  4. 10
    The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (Widsith)
    Widsith: Two excellent, but very different, novels about damaged English soldiers returning home from the First World War with shell-shock.
  5. 10
    The Last Englishman: The Life of J. L. Carr by Byron Rogers (KayCliff)
  6. 00
    The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (amanda4242)
  7. 00
    How to be both: A novel by Ali Smith (shaunie)
    shaunie: Both books focus on the restoration of a wall painting and the descriptions are pretty similar. Both lovely books!
  8. 00
    The Running Foxes by Joyce Stranger (inge87)
  9. 00
    The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (Jannes)
  10. 00
    Judgement Day by Penelope Lively (KayCliff)
  11. 01
    Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier (chrisharpe)

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» See also 360 mentions

English (73)  French (2)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (77)
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
When The Mookse and the Gripes group (on GoodReads) decided to revisit the 1980 Booker shortlist, this was the book I most looked forward to reading, and it did not disappoint, except that it was over too soon.

The narrator is Tom Birkin, who is looking back after many years to his first summer of work after returning from the Great War. He arrives in Oxgodby, a small village in Yorkshire, because a bequest to the local church has stipulated that a medieval wall painting should be uncovered and he has accepted the commission. The village is deliberately set up as a rural idyll, where he can rediscover a sense of purpose, but this is no sentimental romantic vision. There is plenty of humour, especially about the relationship and rivalry between Church and Chapel, and some wonderful period detail.

It transpires that an archaeologist, Moon, has also been commissioned by the same bequest to find the grave of an excommunicated ancestor who was said to be buried outside the church yard, and their discoveries eventually converge in a surprising way. Another subplot involves Birkin's mostly suppressed feelings for the vicar's wife.

This is a richly poignant and enjoyable novella, and an early candidate for my favourite book of the year. ( )
  bodachliath | Sep 14, 2018 |
This novella presents us with a vision of the rural Yorkshire idyll that is fast-fading from existence, and is in many aspects already lost or vastly changed. We follow Londoner Tom Birkin, back from the trenches after WW1, who has been comissioned for his expertise to restore a painted-over mural in a small medieval church in the village of Oxgodby. We follow his progress in uncovering the masterpiece of medieval art over the hot summer months of 1920, during which time he lives in the bell tower of the church, and unexpectedly finds himself being absorbed into village life.
No village by the exact name of Oxgodby seems to exist, and it does not seem a close match in many aspects for either of the Osgodbys in Yorkshire or the one in Lincolnshire. However we are told in the introduction by Carr that the people in the village and their way of life were based on his own experiences growing up in rural North Yorkshire in the Vale of Mowbray, and the rest of the settings were pieced together from various other places he had been.
This is a contemplative book that lures us into the beauty of the historical countryside and the slower pace of living and working there. It also has much to interest the reader in terms of social history for its observations of people and customs. The characters provide distinctive personalities and enjoyable quirks which I would guess were based on people he knew. We also find accurate portraits for both the difficulties or awkwardness of human interaction as well as the ease of getting along that comes between some people. However this is very much a quiet book, and unique in my experience as one that communicates sleepy rural life with such depth and feeling. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jul 8, 2018 |
A British WWI veteran, wounded physically and psychologically, takes a job restoring a medieval mural in an English country church. As he unveils the hidden beauty of the past he slowly heals through his work and his relationships with those he meets in the sedate town.

Told from the perspective of a man many years older, the narrator also regrets not pursuing a love interest in the town, although that would have been difficult in itself. A tender, slow, beautiful novel. ( )
  Hagelstein | Jun 15, 2018 |
In the summer of 1920, Tom Birkin and Charles Moon, both veterans of the Great War, find themselves working in the North Riding village of Oxgodby. Birkin is restoring a medieval wall-painting in the church, whilst the archaeologist Moon is supposed to be looking for a tomb. Both projects have been imposed on the disapproving vicar by an eccentric bequest. But in spite of this frosty reception, we soon see the work, the tranquil atmosphere and association with the down-to-earth villagers starting to undo some of the damage they have brought back from the war with them.

Moon, as we see right from the start ("the three holes in the tunic’s shoulders where his captain’s pips had been...") is officer-class but has somehow fallen from grace, and has a hard time getting acceptance from the locals, but they recognise Birkin - despite his southern accent and art-training - as "one of us". He approaches his work like an artisan, and that's clearly how he's been trained, by a master-craftsman whose skills may well go right back to the generation of the anonymous master who painted the Oxgodby Doom. The villagers respond to that, and Birkin is soon being summoned to have his Sunday lunch with the stationmaster's family and integrated, despite his protests, into the life of the Wesleyan Chapel. But he's also starting to make friends with the grumpy vicar's beautiful wife...

It's a lovely, tantalising little story, in which not much appears to happen on the surface, but a great deal obviously does shift to help Birkin grow beyond the troubled state he's in at the beginning of the story. And it's interesting how in the end it seems to be his association with the very "ordinary" Ellerby family that has had a much profounder effect on him than the exotically erotic plotline we were looking forward to! The respect with which Carr treats the Ellerbys - who could so easily just have been played for laughs - is wonderful and astonishing (until we reflect that they probably have more than a slight resemblance to Carr's own family...). And they are so very real. You can easily imagine being sucked in by a family like that and signed up to look after the "dafties" in the Sunday School or sent out without any qualifications or experience to preach in the most obscure little chapel in the Circuit because no-one else is available. (In fact, I don't need to imagine it - something very similar to that happened to me in my Yorkshire days...). ( )
2 vote thorold | Jun 7, 2018 |
A splendid tale about a man who had fallen out of the world and who over the course of an English summer climbed back again. ( )
1 vote ajungherr | Mar 15, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
Reissued as part of the Penguin Decades series, JL Carr's slender, Booker-shortlisted and semi-autobiographical novel was published in 1980 but looks back to an earlier time. The narrator, Tom Birkin, reflects on a summer spent in the small Yorkshire village of Oxgodby in 1920. Near destitute and still visibly shaken by his experiences during the first world war and through the painful break-up of his marriage, he has been assigned the job of restoring a medieval mural hidden beneath whitewash on the wall of the village church.

As he painstakingly removes several centuries' worth of paint and grime he becomes gradually less closed off and begins to make friends within the community, in particular with Moon, another war veteran, who is camped in the churchyard, ostensibly looking for a lost grave. As Birkin uncovers patches of gilt and cinnabar up on his scaffold, Moon digs his pits outside the church walls; both of them are striving for some sort of, if not restoration, then freedom from their past, and for Birkin, at least, his stay at Oxgodby is a time of healing.

Slim as it is, this is a tender and elegant novel that seemingly effortlessly weaves several strands together. Carr has a knack for bringing certain scenes into sudden, sharp focus, rather as waves lift forgotten things to the surface. He writes with particular precision and admiration about the joys of skilled men going about their business. He also subtly evokes lost rural customs and ways of living that, even at the time, had begun to fade from view: cart rides and seed cake and honey-thick accents that had not yet been filed down by mass communication.

The sense of things lost to time is pronounced but not overplayed and there's a gently elegiac quality to the developing picture of a warm and hazy English countryside summer. This pleasant vision is countered by his rawer and more acute account of the deep mark left on a man when a chance of happiness is glimpsed and missed and left to settle in the memory.
added by VivienneR | editThe Guardian, Natasha Tripney (Aug 8, 2010)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carr, J. L.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benítez Ariza, José ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blythe, IanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blythe, RonaldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitzgerald, PenelopeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holroyd, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rogers, ByronForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'A novel' - a small tale, generally of love'
- Dr. Johnson's Dictionary

'Now for a breath I tarry,
nor yet disperse apart-
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart?
- A. E. Housman?

She comes not when Noon is on the roses -
Too bright is Day
She comes not to the Soul till it reposes
From work and play.
But when Night is on the hills, and the great Voices
Roll in from sea
By starlight and by candlelight and dreamlight
She comes to me
- Herbert Trench
For Kathie (1980)
For Kathie and for Sally...fare well (1991)
First words
When the train stopped I stumbled out, nudging and kicking the kitbag before me. Back down the platform someone was calling despairingly, 'Oxgodby...Oxgodby.'
We can ask and ask, but we can never have again what we once thought ours forever...
Our jobs are our fantasies, our disguises, the cloak we can creep inside to hide.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (4)

Book description
Tom Birkin, a damaged survivor of the First World War, is spending the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting in the village church of Oxgodby. Joined by another veteran employed to look for a grave outside the churchyard he uncovers old secrets that bear on his experience of conflict.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0940322471, Paperback)

Any good reader has, well, had it with novels of healing. The culture of confession has given rise to novels that begin with an unspeakable act (graphically described) and end in redemption (this part is usually more vague). That's not how it works in J.L. Carr's quiet, brief, dreamy A Month in the Country. Writing in 1978, Carr's narrator, Tom Birkin, recalls the summer of 1920. A veteran of the Great War and a cuckold, Tom arrives in Oxgodby to restore a medieval mural in the church. His single season in this town in the north of England passes quickly: he sleeps in the belfry, makes a friend or two, falls secretly in love with the vicar's wife, and, chipping away at plaster and dirt, uncovers a lost masterpiece. These events seem to melt past Tom in the heat of the perfect, fleeting English summer: "The front gardens of cottages were crammed with marjoram and roses, marguerites, sweet William, at night heavy with the scent of stocks. The Vale was heavy with leaves, motionless in the early morning, black caves of shadow in the midday heat, blurring the sound of trains hammering north and south."

Carr devotes many fewer words to Tom's time in the war. The vicar's wife tries to ask him about it. "'What about hell on earth?' she said. I told her I'd seen it and lived there and that, mercifully, they usually left an exit open." His healing consists of not talking about his past--perhaps a revolutionary notion these days. A Month in the Country, with its paean to a lost, good place, oddly recalls Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. But where that novel was elliptical, Carr's work values clarity and simplicity above all. These are rare enough qualities, but to find them in a novel of romance and healing is a rarer pleasure still. --Claire Dederer

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:08 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summers, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter's extraordinary depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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2 6
2.5 4
3 44
3.5 33
4 138
4.5 54
5 129

NYRB Classics

2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 0940322471, 1590176839

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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