- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 135 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Edition edition (October 31, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0940322471
- ISBN-13: 978-0940322479
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Month in the Country (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 31, 2000
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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
From Library Journal
Protagonist Tom Birkin is a broken man. Haunted by his experiences in the trenches of World War I and recovering from a divorce, Birkin accepts a job restoring a medieval mural of the apocalypse in a church located in a remote corner of Yorkshire. It is here, however, that Birkin, though alone with only an interpretation of the world's end for company, learns to live again. Carr's small gem of a novel was first published in 1980.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Birkin finds physical, emotional, and mental healing in the work, which captures and captivates him, as well as in the season (summer, 1920), and in the idyllic English countryside, and in the people he encounters there, most notably Charles Moon, a fellow WWI veteran, who is working on a related, but distinct commission, Kathy Ellerby, a young woman (16) who finds him interesting and engaging, and Sally Keach, the pastor's wife with whom he falls in love, a chaste love.
It is a story, gloriously written, of remembrance of an experience in which, in a sense, time stood still, and every small event and meeting became a treasured moment in a treasured, but ever so brief period of time...
Yes, A Month in the Country is a book about a wounded man's resurrection, but it is also a haunting tale of the underlying unfulfillment of a man too damaged to grab on to the town and the people who would have loved to keep him there. Alas, that did not happen.
Birkin, a young veteran of WWI, is hired by a small English church to uncover a medieval fresco hidden within its walls. As he slowly reveals the forgotten images, he builds friendships and connections with the people in the town, as well as the medieval artist who originally painted the fresco. Another veteran of the war, a young man named Moon, is hired to find a lost grave outside of the church's cemetery. A fast friendship is made between the two men as they both work to uncover something long lost while trying to recover themselves from the brutality they survived.
As Birkin peels and scrapes away the layers of plaster on the church's wall, summer blooms and flows through the town. Carr's descriptions of a singular and glorious summer are incredibly evocative, and it was easy for me to feel like I was there with Birkin, Moon, and the others, feeling the sun on my back, hearing the breeze shush through the trees, smelling the ripeness of the world.
The richness of the book rests not only on its descriptions, though. Recovery, restoration, longing, memory, and loss are all explored alongside the gorgeous prose. Carr weaves thought and emotion through the narrative effortlessly. There's an honesty in the book, one that keeps true to the splendidness of that one summer, as well as the yearning and ache that the narrator feels as he reflects on those months more than sixty years later.
A short, but beautiful book that draws in the reader and invites them to relish every word.
More than "read" this book, you feel its warm touch uopn you. And when you have quickly finished its 135 pages, you feel more than that. Carr's lovely, comfortable words have taken up residence and are with you to stay.
Carr explains that Mr. Birkin (who at the time was still distressed by war horror) is to clear off and reveal a begrimed mural from 500 years in the past. He has a single season to do it among seductive, full summer gardens and fields, with locals observing -- some watching his work, others curious about his life. As he peals away the layers, the painting comes gradually uncovered. The magic at the story core, however, is not an old painting seen again, but a young man seen anew. This story of revelation by small advances, is well-told by a fine writer and certainly the stuff of classics.
This is about how one man rebuilds a life after the war has essentially metaphorically destroyed everything he holds dear.