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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

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1,073577,788 ()245
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
    What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (KayCliff)
  3. 00
    Maurice by E. M. Forster (1502Isabella)
  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
    The Running Foxes by Joyce Stranger (inge87)
  6. 00
    The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (Jannes)
  7. 00
    Judgement Day by Penelope Lively (KayCliff)
  8. 01
    Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier (chrisharpe)

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» See also 245 mentions

English (55)  French (1)  All languages (56)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
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. ( )
2 vote Smiler69 | Sep 12, 2014 |
I stole this book from the library’s lost and found. It was my college library, where I worked, and I stole it on the first of two late night shifts I ever worked there. (Was it two? Was it three? This is embarrassing for me, I should remember. I only left this job on the 9th, and its only two weeks later, the 23rd). My friends and coworkers Sarah and Vicky let me go through the lost and found while they inventoried and packed up items to be donated. I left the job because I was graduating and was no longer allowed to work there, being a non-student. It was the best job I ever had, and I made so many friends there that I loved.

Leaving the library also meant leaving the town that I spent the last four years in. It was a lot of goodbyes, not only to the best people I ever met, but to a lovely and gorgeous town that I fell in love with. I didn’t want to stay, because with so many friends graduating and moving away, I knew it wouldn’t be the same. Best not overstay my welcome.

It feels like I was meant to pick this book up because it is also about goodbyes. The book is very short (135 pages), and it’s because it doesn’t want to linger on something so good. It knows that to do so risks the chance of ruining the experience. It’s a choice that our narrator is afraid to make. Our narrator is Mr. Birken, and after having survived World War I and after his wife leaves him for another man, he has moved to the small town of Oxgodby in order to uncover and restore a church mural depicting the apocalypse.

Something strange is going on with Birken and I am not sure what it is quite yet. The war has obviously unhinged him, and he must be freshly aware of his mortality. He is happy in this new town, and he is slowly integrating himself into it more and more. But there is a faint lingering terror behind things that is only glimpsed at in tiny moments. He is in some ways trying to converse with the past by uncovering the mural, yet Oxgodby is also an opportunity for him to forget the past and reinvent himself. This is a fresh beginning for him, but the painting itself is both the reason why he has this opportunity and also symbolic of something very threatening to this opportunity. He briefly recognizes something dangerous within it, and it terrifies him that it is found in Oxgodby, this beautiful town that is saving him. Yet the painting is also one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen.

I don’t want to give too much away by talking endlessly about symbolism and character development, not there is much to be spoiled here. The events in the book are almost banal. It’s a damn good book and you should read it.

One last thing: our narrator at one point imagines the voice of the painter. The painter says, “If any part of me survives from time’s corruption, let it be this. For this was the sort of man I was.” Our narrator tells this story to us at a much later point in time. He is telling this story to us because this is what he wants to be remembered out of his life, this brief month in the country. It may very well be the most important and cherished time in his life. Above all things this book is about love. Love of living, love of the possibilities of life. That alone makes the book worth reading.
( )
1 vote sighedtosleep | Sep 1, 2014 |
I have a very sweet spot in my heart for country living in the summertime. I spent about 8 summer vacations on a cattle and wheat ranch in Idaho. I have vivid memories of hot summer days, the rustle of the wind through the tall trees, the slow trickle sound of a creek, chickens scratching in the yard, and calves calling for their mothers. I remember the smells of hay and wheat harvests. I would spend at least a month in the country, sometimes more. I ached to return each year. I still have that spot in my heart.

This is a very sweet book describing a veteran returning from war with some mental wounds, spending a few months working to restore art on walls in a country church, and getting to know the country and its people. A delightfully moving description of summer in a slower time, in a simple environment. His interaction with the art, and with the people, and most of all with the environment helps him heal; and the author offers some of the same to his readers. There is a plot but it is not of central import. And even the characters are somewhat like the characters in the mural. They are real. But the author does not spend his words describing their reality in much more than a few very talented brush strokes.

One feels a little bit more whole after reading these wonderful descriptions of a life which follows the natural cycles. I was able to read the book in just a couple of sittings. I recommend it especially to those who love good writing. ( )
1 vote maggie1944 | Aug 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (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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'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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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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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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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