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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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975None8,795 (4.14)172
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 byclickclack, iceT, sandpiper, Niafer, Brooni, VivienneR, bertilak, FlorenceArt, private library, patsaintsfan
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English (44)  French (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Set just after the end of WWI, A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr is Tom Birkin's memories of a summer he spent in the northern village of Oxgodby and how it helped him to recover from the war. Birkin came to restore a painting on the wall of the local church, sleeping in the belfry and trying to make his small payment last as long as he can make it. The painting he uncovers enthralls him; it's more than just another quick decoration for the medieval artist who painted it and Birkin is drawn in to its complexity. Working in the churchyard below is another veteran, Moon, who has been hired to find the grave of his benefactor's ancestor. Through his friendship with Moon, the reticent but sincere relationships he forms with people in the village and especially the visits of the rector's wife, Birkin is brought back into living fully.

Which makes this book sound kind of slow and boring, doesn't it? There's a real charm to A Month in the Country, not in a chocolate box illustration sweetness, but in the way the harsh northerners and a shell-shocked Londoner find contentment in knowing each other. And in the understated friendship he forms with Moon, who has his own war-related demons to fight. Carr writes beautifully in an understated way that perfectly suits the story he's written. This is a book that, for an hour or two (it's a very slender book), immerses the reader in slowly clearing whitewash off of an old wall painting, revealing inch by inch the saints and sinners hidden for centuries, eating Sunday dinner with the station master's family, smoking Woodbines while leaning on tombstones while Moon talks about what lays underneath the meadow and hoping that the vicar's wife will stop by for a visit soon. This is a book that reads like a summer afternoon. ( )
6 vote RidgewayGirl | Apr 10, 2014 |
Wonderful little book. Best I've read in awhile. ( )
  JWhitsitt | Mar 17, 2014 |
Perhaps I don't have to write a long review, saying how I've known about this book forever and had known for the last few years it was going to be a favourite when I did finally read it. My own "month in the country" and how I decided not to read it then because it's a story about remembering.

Simply, I would love to live this whole book.
From the point when he arrives at the station I mean, so not the background; I don't really need to have been in a war on top of everything else. Being suffused in history and connected to those of the past as well as the present, the solitary but quietly sociable escape to the country, the healing but through doing something (both practical and artistic, with minimal bossing or being bossed) and just living.

As a piece of historical fiction it is remarkably of-its-time. There was only one sentence in the entire book which felt out of place.

Read 17 April 2013. ( )
  antonomasia | Aug 15, 2013 |
A gorgeous eulogy for the perfect Summer

Birkin, a damaged World War One veteran, is employed to a find and restore a mural in a village church, whilst another veteran is employed to look for a grave beyond the churchyard walls. The writer looks back 58 years later, and as an old man, on his idyllic Summer of 1920. The bitter-sweet happiness the writer describes feels fragile and ephemeral which makes the story all the more beautiful, powerful and haunting. This short book packs so much in: love, loss, social history, the way the past impinges on the present, ageing, war, nature, relationships, spirituality, religion, pain, healing, happiness, and disappointment. Beyond that, the less you know about this book the better, suffice it to say it's a masterpiece and you should read it.

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. ( )
1 vote nigeyb | Apr 11, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (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 (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
J. L. Carrprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blythe, RonaldIntroductionsecondary 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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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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» see all 3 descriptions

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