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A Month in the Country by J L Carr

A Month in the Country (original 1980; edition 2000)

by J L Carr

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,129627,260 (4.15)274
Title:A Month in the Country
Authors:J L Carr
Info:Penguin Books (2000), Paperback, 112 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (1980)

  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 by E. M. Forster (1502Isabella)
  3. 10
    What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (KayCliff)
  4. 00
    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. 00
    How to be both by Ali Smith (shaunie)
    shaunie: Both books focus on the restoration of a wall painting and the descriptions are pretty similar. Both lovely books!
  6. 00
    The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (Jannes)
  7. 00
    The Running Foxes by Joyce Stranger (inge87)
  8. 00
    Judgement Day by Penelope Lively (KayCliff)
  9. 01
    Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier (chrisharpe)

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» See also 274 mentions

English (58)  French (2)  All languages (60)
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Written in 1980 but set in 1920 this slim novel tells the story of shell-shocked Great War veteran, Tom Birkin, who has taken on the job of restoring a medieval mural in a village church. Moon, another veteran, is searching the grounds for a lost grave. This is a story of recovery and restoration for the men as much as the church. It is a beautiful look back at rural customs and a way of life that no longer exists. The recollection of that gentle, warm English summer is a balm to characters and reader alike. Carr has written an unforgettable story that continues to kindle thought and reflection long after the reading is done. ( )
1 vote VivienneR | Sep 10, 2015 |
This is an excellent short book about the aftermath of WWI for one young man. Tom Birkin shows up in a small English village to uncover a Medieval era mural in the village church. It is 1920 and he is suffering from shell shock after his time in the War. In this quiet village, he seems to find some peace, connecting with another war veteran working on a different project at the church and also with some of the locals. It isn't to be expected that his peace will continue upon finishing his project and leaving the village, but the book is told from the point of view of his old age which reveals just how much this short time in his life meant to him. This is a quiet book but it isn't a simple one. There is some quiet humor and Carr leaves a lot to the reader to fill in which I really liked. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Aug 21, 2015 |
Tom Birkin is a WWI survivor, with troubled memories which have left him with a stammer and very bad facial tics. To make matters worse, he came home to find his wife had run off with another man. Seeking some peace and quiet, he accepts a job to uncover a medieval wall mural which has been whitewashed over for hundreds of years in a church in a tiny village called Oxgodby. As he slowly and painstakingly uncovers the beautiful painting before him, he also uncovers a way of dealing with the past. The story unfolds slowly, as Tom meets Moon, another veteran who has his own demons. Moon is an archaeologist and has been hired to find a lost grave that for an unknown reason was buried outside the churchyard.

Tom tells this story of his memory of the time he spent in Oxgodby. The first person narrative works well here, as Tom remembers his excitement at uncovering the beautiful painting, face by face, hand by hand. He tells of the few friendships he made, and of the way that he and Moon stretched out the jobs they were hired for so that they could enjoy the quiet, peaceful, beautiful summer. They were being paid for the job, not by the hour so the ability to slowly heal themselves as their respective jobs slowly revealed the past was beautifully told. At one point Tom and Moon are discussing the effect on themselves of the work they have been doing and Moon says, "I don't suppose you noticed it happening, but Oxgodby's just about ironed you out." (page 97)

The book is worth reading from the beautiful beginning to this touching end.

"We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever - the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face, They've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.
All this happened so long ago. And I never returned, never wrote, never met anyone who might have given me news of Oxgodby. So, in memory, it stays as I left it, a sealed room furnished by the past, airless, still, ink long dry on a put-down pen.
But this was something I knew nothing of as I closed the gate and set off across the meadow." (page 135) ( )
1 vote NanaCC | Jul 26, 2015 |
One of those lovely, quiet books in which not much happens and yet everything happens. It's the summer of 1920, and Tom Birkin is ensconced in the small Yorkshire town of Oxgodby. He's been hired to unmask a medieval judgment painting that's long been whitewashed over in the local church. And as the painting slowly reveals itself, Birkin realizes that it's the work of a master artist.

But while Birkin is working in the town, the town is working on him, as well: Birkin is a WWI vet who still suffers the after effects of shell shock, and his wife has recently left him. The town embraces him, and gradually it "just about iron[s] [him] out," as Moon--the archaeologist (and fellow vet) who's also working in the town that summer--puts it (76).

The novel is written from Birkin's POV from many years later, and is suffused with a melancholy nostalgia; as traumatic as the war was for Birkin, the loss of his youth and of the warmth and beauty of that idyllic summer is a far sadder memory. ( )
  rvhatha | Mar 13, 2015 |
The marvelous thing was coming into this haven of calm water and, for a season, not having to worry my head with anything but uncovering their wall-painting for them. And, afterwards, perhaps I could make a new start, forget what the War and the rows with Vinny had done to me and begin where I’d left off. This is what I need, I thought – a new start and, afterwards, maybe I won’t be a casualty anymore. Well, we live by hope.

Tom Birkin is a shell-shocked survivor of WWI that arrives to Oxgodby, a remote village in Yorkshire, where he’s got the job of restoring a medieval mural in the local church.

The events is told by Tom in old age, looking back at a beautiful summer where he had a fresh start in life. He has been deserted by his wife who has moved in with a lover, he is very poor and is forced to life in the small bell tower, yet he is thrilled at the opportunity to uncover the painting.

The stranger in the close-knit community is slowly involved in the lives of the people - and he befriends the beautiful wife of the vicar who often visits the church and watch him work. Slowly he falls in love - and he has a choice to make.

This is a little gem of a novel (140 pages) and beautifully written - with a strong sense of place. Tom Birkin is such a simple, gentle spirit - he doesn’t demand a lot out of life. He’s a lost soul that is awakened to life again through the lives he touches in the community. Not to a happily ever after, but just to join the human race again. ( )
2 vote ctpress | Mar 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (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 (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. L. Carrprimary authorall 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 (3)

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)

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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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