The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Month in the Country by J L Carr

I know I only got this a month or so ago, and with over 80 odd books on my TBR pile I don't have any excuses really, except that I could not resist this one, for reasons explained on my Rural Novels post. It is only 85 pages so more of a novella really.
Set in Yorkshire just after the First World War, Tom Birkin arrives at Oxgodby to restore a medieval wall painting in a small church. He is also seeking refuge and peace after the horrors he has seen, betrayed by a stammer and a twitch. Tom is our narrator, as he reflects on that long-ago summer from old age, with nostalgia for a lost rurality and more than a little humour. Living in the bell tower during that hot summer he describes his sleepy and beautiful surroundings, and his relationships with the local's with affection, his friendship with Charles Moon who was also in the war, his crush on the vicar's wife, and his admiration for the artist who created the fresco and the mysteries it holds. During his stay amongst the quiet and rhythmic hum of the countryside, Tom Birkin begins to heal.
The humour of the narration makes this book very easy to read, and the warmth of the summer is tangible through Tom. This is not a fast paced book full of action. It is instead a wonderful meditation about people and their surroundings, and appreciating it for what it is, before it is lost forever. Tom is irresistably drawn into the lives of the locals, by his routine, and by the mysterious painter who never managed to finish the work on the chapel wall, which is of a rare quality. There are some sadnesses along the way, especially Moon's background in the war. These are only alluded to, and the rest is left to your imagination. Their experiences are not less for this. You know Tom is haunted enough to get a tic and seek some peace. This is an upbeat study about how one man tries to quiet his mind, told with witty observations and warmth.
I already knew the story having seen the film (which adds a few details where the novel holds back) so I knew what it was about. I loved the film, with Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, and I really enjoyed reading this book. The whole thing feels like something to savour and I recommend it highly.
Bookrags has a study guide for A Month in the Country, which may be of use for book group discussion.
There is also a good article from The Independent about the author you may find interesting, entitled The Last Englishman: The Life of J L Carr by Byron Rogers


Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I loved this book and the film is awesome, isn't it? I read/watched it for a literature and film class in college a gazillion years ago!

Leah said...

Thanks Holly, I'm glad I got to read it and I will probably read it again some time.

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