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A Month in the Country by J L Carr
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A Month in the Country (original 1980; edition 2000)

by J L Carr

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1,099597,558 (4.15)260
Member:DRC
Title:A Month in the Country
Authors:J L Carr
Info:Penguin Books (2000), Paperback, 112 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (1980)

Recently added byadrienie, alanca, kefisher, private library, NCampbell, BookAddictUK, ritaer, mccin68, AlisonY
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English (57)  French (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
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 |
Not sure if I will ever get back to this fine work for a second reading, but it sure was enjoyable. There may be a review forthcoming, but perhaps not. Time is at a premium these days. ( )
  MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
I can't say enough about a Month in the Country. Tom Birkin is a WWI vet, traumatized by the war and a bad marriage, who takes a job in a country church uncovering an old mural. It's a healing summer for Tom, with friendships and work that helps him rethink religion, marriage, and even life. A Month in the Country is a short read, a one-night read even, so I can't think of a single reason why you shouldn't take it on. Somehow, in reading it, after a long string of current novel disappointments, I remembered why I love novels. ( )
  debnance | Nov 2, 2014 |
In 1920, Tom Birkin, a young art restorer who's fought in the war and come out suffering from shell shock, is hired by a small village church in Oxgodby, Yorkshire to uncover beneath a layer of whitewash what is suspected to be a mural from the middle ages. He makes friends with another war veteran working on the grounds of the same church, archeologist Charles Moon, who has been hired with the same funds originating from a wealthy recently deceased old woman, who desired that the tomb of one of her ancestors who had been buried outside church grounds sometime in the 14th century be found. Tom is paid a pittance for his efforts, but he hardly minds this; he sees this contract as an opportunity to spend the summer in the country, away from London and the stresses of city life and an unhappy marriage to an unfaithful young woman he'd barely known when they'd married. The discomfort of sleeping almost directly on the floor just below the belfry is amply compensated for by the healing benefits of his stay in Oxgodby and his daily contact with Moon, with whom they establish a daily ritual of breakfast before setting to work. The work itself proves incredibly rewarding as he uncovers what is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but perhaps best of all are the unexpected friendships he makes with some of the village people, some of whom take him into their small community and seem to want to convince him to stay among them for good. And then of course there's the reverend's wife, Alice Keach, a young woman of great beauty, whom he knows instinctively cannot be happy with her husband, and if he only had the courage, might perhaps be willing...

My only regret with this book was that I wasn't able to fully plunge into it as I would have liked to. It's such a short work, that I felt it would have been best ingested in one or two, or three sittings at most. But I read it at night just before sleep and always fatigued as I am, couldn't keep awake beyond a dozen pages or so at a time, and it seemed to me the effect was diluted. Still, I can hardly fault the book for this, and it only gives me another excuse for revisiting it, perhaps making room for it in daytime hours next time. Perfectly charming. ( )
3 vote Smiler69 | Sep 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (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 (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. L. Carrprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blythe, RonaldIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitzgerald, PenelopeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holroyd, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'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
Dedication
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.'
Quotations
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)

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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:30 -0400)

(see all 3 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

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