Feeling strung out? Need a book to help re-center your life, perhaps something calming and restorative? Then consider A Month in the Country, a slim 138-page gem of a book by the eccentric British author, J. L. Carr (1912-1994).
As a novel, A Month in the Country is as poised and perfect as fiction goes. Inspiration, atmosphere, and word craft harmonize with an ease and expressiveness that leave a lovely, indelible image in the hearts and minds of its readers.
At the outset of the novel, Tom Birkin, a World War I survivor and a veteran of a broken marriage, arrives in a remote Yorkshire village to restore a medieval mural in the local church. Setting up his summer lodge in the bell tower, he is charmed by the blooming countryside even as passes his days absorbed in resurrecting an anonymous artist’s apocalyptic vision. It is, of course, Birkin’s own restoration to faith in life that Carr tellingly portrays, through a season of peace and renewal that’s enduring despite its swift passage.
As summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, years later, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art in that idyllic village, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost. Simple in outline and wonderfully well-written, A Month in the Country is hauntingly beautiful in its effect.
Excerpts from the book
“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. All this happened so long ago. And I never returned, never wrote, never met anyone who might have given me news of Oxgodby. So, 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.”
Ah, those days…for many years afterwards their happiness haunted me. Sometimes, listening to music, I drift back and nothing has changed. The long end of summer. Day after day of warm weather, voices calling as night came on and lighted windows pricked the darkness and, at day-break, the murmur of corn and the warm smell of fields ripe for harvest. And being young. If I’d stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvelous thing around each corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.”
About the Author
J.L. Carr (1912-1994) was born in Thirsk, England. He was a teacher, then a headmaster of a primary school before turning to writing full-time at relatively late in life, at the age of 55. In 1967, having already written two novels, Carr retired from his job as a teacher to devote himself full time to writing. He produced and published from his own Quince Tree Press a series of ‘small books’ designed to fit into a pocket, some of them selections from English poets, others brief monographs about historical events, or works of reference. But his most famous work is A Month in the Country, which won the Guardian Fiction Prize. It was also shortlisted for the 1980 Booker Prize, and was made into a memorable film of the same title, starring Colin Firth.