A Month in the Country

A Month in the Country

Book - 2000
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A short, spellbinding novel about a WWI veteran finding a way to re-enter--and fully embrace--normal life while spending the summer in an idyllic English village.

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.

Publisher: New York : New York Review Books, 2000.
ISBN: 9780940322479
Characteristics: xxii, 135 p. ; 21 cm.
Additional Contributors: Holroyd, Michael


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Apr 20, 2021

This is one of those quiet, short stories that you really don’t want to end. A perfectly delightful book capturing the past in the present while looking back from the future.

Oct 29, 2020

This little gem was quite a delightful discovery for me. Tom Birkin, in his early 20’s, demobbed, shell-shocked, drifting after a marital break-up, falls into what I can best characterize as a hiatus, a summer intermezzo at a Yorkshire village church, tasked with uncovering a large late medieval wall painting. We are taken along on his idyllic sojourn as he slips into the easy pastoral life of the town and its people; and his troubled spirit begins to heal. The atmosphere, the pace of life, the personalities are reminiscent of Thomas Hardy. Reading this was like spending a quiet summer afternoon in an English garden, indulging in reveries that are interrupted only by the arrival of tea and scones.
Carr peppers his cozy narrative with the sort of droll humor that only the English seem capable of concocting. Men of the cloth seem especially suitable as targets, whether they be “church” or “chapel”. For example, the vicar, a deliciously fussy fellow, expresses his objections about a stove: “It rumbles,” he said impatiently, “… and disturbs the hymns: empty-headed children seem to find it funny. And then there’s the blow-back and, when this …. Well, blows back, it erupts. Smoke, sparks, ash … yes, ash, it showers ash on the congregation. I have had several complaints.”
Likewise, a Wesleyan lay preacher, “the mildest, most self-contained of men” in his daily life takes on an entirely different persona in the pulpit: “It’s not strictly true that climbing the pulpit stairs transformed him, he was mild enough when announcing hymns …. But once launched upon the waves and billows of his sermon, he roared and raved like a madman, now and then bashing his big fist on the podium so that the water decanter leapt. The while, his wretched wife hung her head in shame and only her twitching fingers revealed suffering. Mercifully, once at ground level again, he came-to like one revived from a convulsive fit and not remembering it.”
This was exactly the kind of novel I needed just now, in the midst of a pandemic that refuses to abate and a continuous stream of disturbing news from all quarters. Escapism? You bet!

Feb 09, 2019

Set in Northern England in 1920, this novella tells the story of a man who was damaged by WW I and who gets a job to uncover a medieval painting in the local church. He gradually heals as he becomes part of the community. A quiet but lovely book. Booker Short List.

May 02, 2018

As recommended by Michael Ondaatje- Also a movie, "but read the book":

Jan 23, 2018

A sweetly touching novella about a destitute man who returns from WWI with PTSD to carry out restoration work on a medieval church and slowly finds that the work he does and friends he makes are doing restoration work on him. Recommended, especially for Anglophile readers.

Jul 12, 2015

JL Carr writes a most beautiful novel. He transport the reader back to the 1920's in a small town in the North of England, and he then proceeds to tell us about life, as simple or as complicated as you wish it to be. The interactions between human beings covering a wide range of them, love, friendship, every day interactions and the like.
He weaves those interactions in the context of a beautiful summer in all its glory, and like the tide receding and coming in, he inserts the indescribable horrors of the first world war. A timeless book that will touch anyone. Do not miss this rare treat.

readtoday Oct 13, 2010

no issue with the skirting of the life/death events taking place in any community, small or large.
Tom Birkin is a traveller, someone passing through Oxgodby. The choices that become available to him, are not the choices he really wants to make. Seen through the lens of time bittersweet with the warmth of what might have been, his time in Oxgodby is a tender moment.

Thought it a worthwhile read overall.


Dec 05, 2009

As I read it, I couldn't help but wonder what sort of book it would have been if a woman had written it. I'm not suggesting it would have been a better book; there is a great deal of charm and skill in the narrative, and it wasn't shortlisted for the 1980 Booker for nothing. However, I don't think a woman could have resisted delving into the deeper stories of Alice, her husband, the dying girl, or the Colonel. I think the brushing softly and drawing back is a guy thing.

Certainly J.L. Carr himself was an enigma. I'd love to read a biography of him, but who would get enough material on this private, elusive, and fascinating man? If you have the edition with Michael Holroyd's introduction and haven't read it, oh, please do. The description of Carr's funeral alone is worth it

Dec 05, 2009

I don't remember who recommended this book to me, but to whoever that was, thanks very much! A World War I veteran travels to Oxgodby in the north of England to escape from the horrors of war and the pain of his wife's desertion. Here he takes on the job of restoring a painting in a church during the summer months. This is a sweet, gentle read as you literally feel the healing process taking place through the characters in the community and the peace of the countryside. Made me feel so nostalgic...Booker shortlisted in 1980.


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