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A Month in the Country (Penguin Modern Classics)

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It transpires that an archaeologist, Moon, has also been commissioned by the same bequest to find the grave of an excommunicated ancestor who was said to be buried outside the church yard, and their discoveries eventually converge in a surprising way. Another subplot involves Birkin's mostly suppressed feelings for the vicar's wife. I saw her in the yard. You seemed to have a lot to say to each other. Now, didn’t you find her a bit of a stunner? Fancy that gem of purest Ray serene hidden away in Oxgodby’s unfathomable caves! Well, come on, admit it”. Tom has just returned to England after a horrific experience as a soldier in WWI. He is a broken man; a man with a facial tic caused by the trauma of war. He is returning from hell, probably suffering from what now would be called PTSD. Perhaps a commission to restore a medieval mural in a country church will help him return to civilian life and give him direction. A calendar of memory can be read like a book. Nature in its periodic seasons reanimates the life in us, the past and future life. The dead leaves or loves sediment and new feelings sprout and grow and a new impulse continues. Here I was, face to face with a nameless painter reaching from the dark to show me what he could do, saying to me as clear as any words, 'If any part of me survives from time's corruption, let it be this. For this was the sort of man I was.'

A Month in the Country - Penguin Books UK A Month in the Country - Penguin Books UK

The first breath of autumn was in the air, a prodigal feeling, a feeling of wanting, taking, and keeping before it’s too late.” There is a full cast of local characters; the local vicar and his beautiful wife and the rival Wesleyan Methodists. Carr, being brought up in the Wesleyan tradition captures the chapel rituals and attendees very well. Carr said he wanted the effect to be something like Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree in relation to the local characters. The Publisher Says: In J. L. Carr's deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter's depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost. To feel pain means to be alive and the resolution to pursue happiness is a courageous vow that Thomas is willing to take. If the author of this book had more appropriately named this Elegy of a Broken Man rather than A Month in the Country, I think my preconceptions and attitudes would have met him in that proper space rather than taken a continuous nose dive into confusion.The introduction to the book in the NYRB version is written by Michael Holroydand it is excellent. I love it when an introduction fires up the reader to read the book. He talks about his own odd intersection with J. L. Carr, but the most resonating bit he shares is in regards to Carr's funeral. The plot concerns Tom Birkin, a World War I veteran employed to uncover a mural in a village church that was thought to exist under coats of whitewash. At the same time another veteran is employed to look for a grave beyond the churchyard walls. Though Birkin is an unbeliever, there is prevalent religious symbolism throughout the book, mainly dealing with judgement. The novel explores themes of England's loss of spirituality after the war, and of happiness, melancholy, and nostalgia as Birkin recalls the summer uncovering the mural, when he healed from his wartime experiences and a broken marriage. A month in the country tells of the insignificant piece of time in Tom Birkin’s life when he passed by the provincial town of Oxgodby. Birkin recalls the weeks he spent uncovering an ancient fresco in the village church and the moments in between filled with irrelevant details and inconsequential episodes. The novel is compact, simple, and yet filled with wisdom. As a human, an artist of sorts, an estranged husband, and war veteran, we see Birkin’s hardened attitude towards his life and the hopeful contentment he feels towards his future. There is much to ponder on. I know that the basic story is well known, the young re-patriated soldier, spending a month in the English countryside at a small chapel, tasked to uncover a centuries old mural. But the tale is so much more than that because the prose is so much more than that. Carr captures moments in so many ways. One small moment:

A Month in the Country - Penguin Books UK

Never has such a short novel impacted me so profoundly, dramatically, making me reflect on a few golden days in my past, my own in which I can close my eyes and smell the dust, taste the feint salt on her upper lip, hear the voices, see faces that moments ago would have been obscured by the fog of time, feel the sun on my face, warming me in the illusion that life will surely last forever: "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. They've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass." In memory, it stays as I left it, a sealed room furnished by the past, airless, still, ink long dry on a put-down pen.” Birkin's past was not delved into at any great length but just enough to shed light on his present quest for change. The story focused on the moments of discovery Birkin made that summer through the veil of sadness. He was "surprised by joy" but not in a religious sense. It was a restorative encounter conferred both by the calm haven found in nature and a wholly absorbing vocation. His discoveries of the community, of himself, his new friends, during his month-long stay in the village, enables him to walk away and recover from his own emotional wasteland. It's not an accident that Mr. Carr references both Hardy and Housman, he was a fan and a teacher of both. Me, too.

Netflix has yet again let me down. There is a movie from 1987 starring Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth, but Netflix does not have it. At this point it appears I will have to buy it to see it. I can only hope that they do the book justice. The sound of these forging from flower to flower….cloudless skies….butterflies….blue jays….wood-pigeons…wild plants….poppies….bilberry scrubs…and those long summer days of warm weather…..brought the feelings of youth and love.

J.L. Carr (Author of A Month in the Country) - Goodreads

He also carried on a single-handed campaign to preserve and restore the parish church of St Faith at Newton in the Willows, which had been vandalised and was threatened with redundancy. Carr came into conflict with the vicar of the benefice and the higher church authorities in his campaign. The building was saved, but redundancy was not averted and the building is now a scientific study centre.a b c Filming information Archived 14 April 2013 at archive.today at amitc.org. Retrieved 22 July 2008 Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times found it "like a pastoral parable that has been left outside in the damp too long, causing its batteries to go flat" [18] and following a 2008 screening, Sam Jordison of The Guardian suggested "even though this film is (unusually) faithful to the book...it is really little better than inoffensive. Somehow the magic that makes JL Carr's book so precious is missing." [19] A Month in the Country Blu-ray review". highdefdigest.com. Archived from the original on 18 September 2016 . Retrieved 17 September 2016.

A Month in the Country (film) - Wikipedia A Month in the Country (film) - Wikipedia

The story is bittersweet though, and as much as my heart swells, it is also anguished. The perfect time comes to its inevitable conclusion. The time, like any other, becomes anthologized into history. That which felt never-ending, ended. Chances ran out. Opportunities untaken. But, the older Birkin is aware that perfect moments can stretch into an imperfect life. Things could have turned out differently, but would they have lasted? Is it better that the memories remain totally untainted, a glimmering reminder that life can be hopeful, warm and gentle? This reader was aching for lovers to kiss in the church belfry, but instead, the fleeting month is chastely frozen in time, like a painting, full of promise and optimism. Don’t let the bland cover or blurb lead you to think this is just the charming story of the healing effect of a bucolic month in a quiet village. It is that. But it’s much more. Carr was born in Thirsk Junction, Carlton Miniott, Yorkshire, into a Wesleyan Methodist family. His father Joseph, the eleventh son of a farmer, went to work for the railways, eventually becoming a station master for the North Eastern Railway. Carr was given the same Christian name as his father and the middle name Lloyd, after David Lloyd George, the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer. He adopted the names Jim and James in adulthood. His brother Raymond, who was also a station master, called him Lloyd. Even before I read the first line of the novel, I was enchanted with his chosen epigraphs. The second one is the famous A E Housman line that Roger Zelazny used to describe a post-apocalyptic world ("For a Breath I Tarry") . Tom Birkin, the narrator of the story, is himself the survivor of an apocalypse: the slaughter of the First World War in the trenches of France. Tom has returned to England with both visible and invisible scars. He takes a summer job in a small village in Yorkshire. As a highly skilled restaurateur hired to uncover an ancient mural in the local church, Tom hopes that by immersing himself in the work that he loves, he can heal the wounds left by the war and by a failed marriage.


A haunting novel about art and its power to heal, J. L. Carr's A Month in the Country published as a Penguin Essential for the first time. At the end of his year in the USA Carr continued his journey westward and found himself travelling through the Middle East and the Mediterranean as the Second World War loomed. He arrived in France in September 1939 and reached England, where he volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force. He was trained as an RAF photographer and stationed in West Africa, later serving in Britain as an intelligence officer, an experience he translated into fiction with A Season in Sinji. Tom Birken is summoned to the countryside from the teaming streets of London to practice his craft revealing a Medieval painting that was originally painted 500 years previously, and had been whitewashed over about a hundred years later. It is a picture of doom predating the fantastical, terrifying visions of Bruegel by at least a hundred years. Birkin’s artistic sensitivity and training make him an excellent describer of furniture, machines, architecture, and even people and the broader context of ancient lives.

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