✷ [BOOKS] ✫ A Month in the Country By J.L. Carr ❁ – Golanvideoagency.info
I am a seasonal reader, often craving books with sizzling settings in the summer months and snowy locales in the winter Last week I saw a review for J L Carr s Man Booker winning A Month in the Country and was intrigued enough by the title to read it for myself Using stunning prose combined with well developed characters, Carr s novella is perfect for a leisurely summer morning Tom Birkin had survived the Great War yet returned alienated from civilian life While in present times his feelings can be ascribed to survivor s guilt or post traumatic stress disorder, in 1920 Birkin did not have an outlet for his feelings His wife Vinny had left him for another man, leaving the door open for his return Disillusioned with life as a temporarily single man in London, Birkin accepts a job in a small northern hamlet of Oxgodby to unearth a painting and artist from the 1340s Even though this out of the way life is not what Birkin had envisioned for himself, he welcomes the opportunity to get out of his situation and avoid the present mess of his marriage While in Oxgodby, Birkin encounters a quaint cast of characters Fellow excavator Michael Moon has come north for the same reasons as Birkin The two share war stories and their views on life in general as they attempt to meet their deadlines in unearthing medieval men As the two outsiders enjoy a cordial relationship, Birkin also interacts with locals Kathy Ellenbeck is a precocious fourteen year old who seems to know everything about everyone I found her exchanges to be humorous Meanwhile, Birkin is smitten with the vicar s wife, Alice Keach A young woman of no than twenty, Alice is both intuitive and beautiful, yet off limits It is through his and Alice s non relationship that allows Birkin to assess his own life situation In his novella, Carr employs descriptive prose that has me longing for a countryside Warm summer days are perfect for picnics, budding romances, and staying up late contemplating one s role in life Carr develops characters in Birkin and Moon who are non believers yet are employed by a church Most of the action occurs within the belfry where Birkin works and sleeps, even the contrast as he fights an inner impulse to strike up relations with Alice For a male author, I enjoyed Carr s development of his female characters and was glad that they were simply platonic All good things come to an end Birkin narrates this story while looking back 58 years later having never returned to Oxgodby The story moved by quickly and Birkin finished his work, the church goers almost relieved when he returned to London Carr s story is indeed appropriate for a lazy summer morning A Month in the Country is a relaxing novella with strong characters for a summer day, and, like Birkin, when I was finished reading it, it was time to get on with my everyday life 4 solid stars. This will likely enter the list of my all time favorite books I found myself saying glorious several times and then stopping to thank my parents for instilling in me their love of reading That brought me so belatedly to this treasure of a book.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 than that because the prose is so much than that Carr captures moments in so many ways One small moment The sound of bees foraging from flower to flower seemed to deepen the stillness. p42 I ve experienced such moments but never seen it written so.And a longer evocation of the land he was coming to love There was so much time that marvelous summer Day after day, mist rose from the meadow as the sky lightened and hedges, barns and woods took shape until, at last, the long curving back of the hills lifted away from the Plain It was a sort of stage magic Now you don t see indeed, there is nothing to see Now look Day after day it was like that and each morning I leaned on the yard gate dragging at my first fag and I d like to think marveling at this splendid backcloth But it can t have been so I m not the marveling kind Or was I then But one thing is sure I had a feeling of immense content and, if I thought at all, it was that I d like this to go on and on p 61 Simply put, this book has given me all I look for a cascade of words that ring so true and are beautifully written wonderfully realised characters even though we know them so briefly a perfect setting especially for an Anglophile who loves art and archaeology and a simple story about complex people.I would rated this than 5 if I could. Tom Birkin is hired to reveal and restore a Medieval church mural, covered up over four hundred years earlier Expertly peeling back the layers of lime and grime, what he finds on the walls is unexpected in subject and quality What he learns about people, especially himself, is unexpected too the process of restoration is personally restorative 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.JL Carr elegantly squeezes great breadth and depth in a mere 102 pages mystery, love, tragedy, humour, sociological analysis, lost opportunities, friendship, art, and general beauty It s a nuanced mix that deftly weaves a few dark undercurrents in a rural idyll How, in 1920, a penniless survivor of shell shock, whose wife has gone, finds peace and contentment in the ordinary.Yes, it describes a single month, with little backstory, even less afterstory, and not much happening, but Birkin emerges from Oxgodby changed for the better, and so did I, a little Picture Entrance to a country church of my childhood Angela Davison Enemy Country That s the phrase the war veteran thinks of when he arrives in the small, poor Yorkshire village that is starveling country He plans to live simply and be happy, so that afterwards, maybe I won t be a casualty any He believes in hope, and the locals are interested, interesting, and friendly The steady rhythm of living and working a foot in both present and past quickly infuses contentment Birkin is not the only outsider There s the grumpy vicar, Keach who resents the disruption caused by the restoration , his very young and beautiful wife, Alice, and finally, Charles Moon All four are 30 or younger, though Keach in particular seems older.Love the CountryBirkin, a Londoner, discovers a visceral empathy with and appreciation of nature and the countryside from his very first morning The rain had ceased and dew glittered on the graveyard grass, gossamer drifted down air currents And as it lightened, a vast and magnificent landscape unfolded. He loves letting the summer soak into me by eating outside, and soon feels part of the landscape Those long warm days went on in majestic succession 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. Love of Detail and WorkmanshipBirkin s artistic sensitivity and training make him an excellent describer of furniture, machines, architecture, and even people and the broader context of ancient lives A single immense piece of furniture like an internal buttress In any ordinary room it would have been grotesque but, here, it fell into perfect scale I ve no idea what it was It could have been a Baroque altar piece, an oriental throne, a gigantic examination exercise performed by a cabinet maker s apprentice. When he realises the full wonder of what he s revealing, Birkin slows down, like a reader who doesn t want to finish a brilliant book He becomes Like a greedy child who hoards the best chocolates in the box Each day I used to avoid taking in the whole by giving exaggerate attention to the particular I love Carr s attention to detail and workmanship.Medieval Murals Two demons with delicately furred legs clutched him, one snapping his right wrist whilst his mate split him with shears. That description reminded me of some of the grisly medieval Romanesque religious art in the Museu Nacional d Art de Catalunya, including these I photographed a few years ago Picture Detail of Apse of Santa Maria d neu merely intriguingAndPicture Altar frontal from Avipositively horrificOdd CouplingsBirkin considers odd couples than once, especially Keach and Alice, and how utterly different they are at home, compared with elsewhere He and Moon are a very different pair not a couple both are ex army, spending the summer funded by a bequest from Miss Hebron in Moon s case, he has to find the missing grave of an ancestor But Moon lives in a hole, while Birkin lives up a ladder in the belfry There are other pairs and opposites, not just human, including church and chapel, town and country There s also a woman proffering apples to a man in the church You can t get Old Testament than that.Dark and LightThis story is infused with summer sun Ah, those days for many years afterwards their happiness haunted me. Haunted Yes, because sunlight creates shadows And horror is dark all along Birkin survived Passchendaele, but was left with a stammer not reflected in dialogue , intermittent facial palsy on one side, and no wife There is forbidden love of at least two kinds coddling it up in myself , missed opportunities, and a casual revelation by a third party that forever affects a friendship I m not quite sure what message Carr intended with the last of those view spoiler Birkin learns that Moon was dishonourably discharged for homosexuality He says he doesn t mind, but from that time on, things were never quite the same between us hide spoiler 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 Do we recognize happiness when we live it Or is it a condition we only perceive in retrospection remembering the past through the rose tinted glasses of memory Wales, 1978 Thomas Birkin, a survivor of the Great War, travels back in time to the 1920s and reconstructs a month spent in the rural village of Oxgodby, North Yorkshire Employed to recover a concealed medieval painting on the wall of the local church, Thomas believes that a change of scenery will soothe the scars the bloodbath of war and a shattered marriage have imprinted on him Regardless of his skeptical attitude towards religion, the placid rhythm of summer days ripened by the sun and the quaint temperament of some of the townspeople will guide him inadvertently, not only to uncover the mysteries surrounding the mural painting, but also towards his spiritual restorationThis is what I need, I thought a new start and, afterwards, maybe I won t be a casualty any Thomas is a product of his generation Gifted with excessive self awareness, uncommon lucidity and a rare sense of humor, he speaks from the intimacy of a first person narrator and makes the reader a sensory participant of the impact a few weeks spent among strangers in self effacing examination, of how a tiny parcel of his history, infused him with a renewed zest for life J.L Carr s masterstroke is to tinge the mural of Thomas chronicle with a gossamer of vivid observations that sparkle the old flame of hope, which glows brighter than ever when Alice Keach, the Minister s wife, pierces through Thomas numbness with her curious vitality The world unfolds in a palette of intricate details, delightful snapshots of daily postcards A blooming rose in a hat, the comfortable dampness of concentrated craft under the roof timbers, the buzz of insects and the twittering of birds and blades of grass swaying with the gentle breeze, passers by that matter and others that don t leave track, silent conversations with the Moon, the lazy hours of a summer inexorably crawling towards a perennial exuberance, the intoxicating scent of serendipitous friendship, of wistful love, sweet, fleeting, unattainable, of wanting to memorize the shape of an oval face before it is too late, the devastating certainty of knowing it is gone forever To feel pain means to be alive and the resolution to pursue happiness is a courageous vow that Thomas is willing to take The fallen man of the mural painting couldn t have imagined that a fellow artist would recover his masterpiece, lost to the world under whitewash for than five centuries Thomas Birkin never envisioned being haunted by happiness fifty years after a life altering moment that presented itself wrapped in balustrades of washed out color And there was no way I could have known the heart wrenching journey to the past that awaited me in barely a hundred pages Do we glorify the past in order to cope with the present as a form of self protection I suppose we do But if giving way to nostalgic reverie allows us not to regret missed opportunites that choke us in waves of self pity and prompts us to be grateful for small streaks of fortune instead, I will settle on melancholy any given day Only then, the tugging at the heart for moments gone for good might leave a sweet, lingering taste in our lips, like the promise of an unsealed kiss, of not squandered words, that might last the span of a lifetime. Can you remember a time in your life when you were truly happy If I search my memories, I find a sixteen year old girl sitting in a canoe, with a boy, fishing at two o clock in the morning by the eerie light of the midnight sun, on a glassy lake near Whitehorse, Yukon Everything is tingly and pulsing with youth I look a little and see myself choking back tears on a hospital bed with my beloved grandfather, hearing him say I m still your grandpa, Robin , knowing I would never see him again, but feeling gratitude for the absolute purity of the moment I look again, and watch myself, a brand new mother, rocking my baby during one of our midnight meetings, in the stillness, the newborn puzzle piece nested against my breast Unconditional love was being hatched in my heart.Those moments are the jewels of life.J.L Carr s novella explores such perfect times, through the character of Tom Birkin Set in the summer of 1920, but related in 1978, an older Birkin is remembering the month during which he is hired to uncover a medieval mural in a church in northern England Damaged by time served in WWI and a bad marriage, Birkin arrives at Oxgodby fairly shattered and alone This time serves as a salve on his heart, a reminder of the beauty of art, but also of nature, of simple pastoral idyls and country people As he uncovers the painting, he is also uncovering the masterpiece of his self, his wonder at the world and whatever lies ahead I had a feeling of immense content and, if I thought at all, it was that I d like this to go on and on, no one going, no one coming, autumn and winter always loitering around the corner, the summer s ripeness lasting forever, nothing disturbing the even tenor of my way.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 If I had stayed there, would I have always been happy No, I suppose not People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvellous thing around each corner fades It is now or never we must snatch at happiness as it flies. When we pick up a book by an author we haven t read before, we have only the vaguest notion of what themes it will contain We don t know how those themes will be treated, what attention to detail we will find or if the language will delight us or otherwise Before we turn over that first page, it is all as blank as a whitewashed wall We may bring expectations to the blank piece of wall, expectations based on the period the book is set in or from the opinions of readers we trust, but any clarity on the book s contents will remain largely hidden Sometimes our expectations are rewarded right at the beginning On the first page of this book, I found myself tumbling onto the platform of Oxgodby station alongside the narrator, and the way in which those first words were assembled announced clearly that this was going to be an especially rewarding read I didn t quite know how the author would manage this feat but I was confident it would turn out to be so And although it was a slow reveal, within the first few pages I saw many signs of promise, a little brush stroke here so that a particular character came into better focus, a little sketch there so that I gained a clearer idea of the background, a little foreshadowing so that I could make a stab at guessing the main theme, a little mystery so that I knew there remained riches yet to be discovered.As I read on, my first impressions took definite shape and I was able to admire the craft with which the story unfolded I understood why the author lingered on such and such an idea, why he mentioned that particular subject than once As the pages read became greater than the pages left to read, I was able to guess at pretty much everything that remained to be told except for one or two details, but I still delighted in the manner of the telling and the little traces of humour inserted in the text like private jokes between the author and the narrator It was clear to me too that there was no editorial interference Carr shaped this book to fit the pattern and timing of the central theme, and without any thought for the dictates of the publishing world or any particular genre it might be expected to fit into He was a master of his craft.The book was a treasure that was slowly uncovered when it was fully exposed, I was astounded by the beauty of the work in its entirety and the image it left on my consciousness will remain with me for a long time to come J.L Carr, I salute you You were a true artist. You re happy, Mr Birkin You re not on edge any Is it because the work is going well Of course, she was right Anyway, partly right Standing up there on the platform before a great work of art, feeling kinship with its creator, cosily knowing that I was sort of impresario conjuring and teasing back his work after four hundred years of darkness But that wasn t all of it There was this weather, this landscape, thick woods, roadsides deep in grass and wild flowers And to the south and north of the Vale, low hills, frontiers of a mysterious countryBeautifully written, poetic small story Like many Goodreads friends here, I would describe this book as exquisite and touching Wonderful indeed Slow start though, the story has to grow on you.A damaged survivor of the 1st World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall painting And gradually he finds himself again. That Night, For The First Time During Many Months, I Slept Like The Dead And, Next Morning, Awoke Very Early One Summer, Just After The Great War, Tom Birkin, A Demobbed Soldier, Arrives In The Village Of Oxgodby He Has Been Invited To Uncover And Restore A Medieval Wall Painting In The Local Church At The Same Time, Charles Moon A Fellow Damaged Survivor Of The War Has Been Asked To Locate The Grave Of A Village Ancestor As These Two Outsiders Go About Their Work Of Recovery, They Form A Bond, But They Also Stir Up Long Dormant Passions Within The Village What Berkin Discovers Here Will Stay With Him For The Rest Of His Life Carr Has The Magic Touch To Re Enter The Imagined Past Penelope Fitzgerald What does it take to be happy First of all it takes tranquility And so often the happiest days of our life are those when nothing crucial happened.So a month in the country was a real treat to the protagonist and A Month in the Country is a real treat to a reader Well, we all see things with different eyes, and it gets you nowhere hoping that even one in a thousand will see things your way.The novel is also a deepest contemplation on the nature of art and history and the harmony of life 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, a loved face They ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.Human kindness is the best cure for loneliness and melancholy. This is the sort of efficient novella that demands a short, incisive review full of judiciously chosen adjectives, and presumably that s what it will get if MJ ever gets around to reading it In my case, however, it s unfortunately one of those texts that is going to send me off on a long personal anecdote, for which I offer advance apologies.When I was twenty one I ended up, for a variety of reasons, living in Quito, Ecuador The city in those days was a steamy melting pot of different nationalities, full of Colombian exiles that had fled the violence north of the border, and teeming with renegade expats from a scattering of unusual countries My closest acquaintances included an American Vietnam vet, a British army deserter, a Colombian street artist, a badly disguised CIA agent, a drug dealer for the Medell n cartel and an Italian architect who kept a Picasso hidden under his bed It was a weird time But the first person I met there was a girl from Sweden called Lina We lived in the same building, and on my first night in the city she took me out for a Mexican and we got hammered on strawberry daiquiris, and the evening slowly evolved into a strange date which she orchestrated with Scandinavian directness You buy me a drink now You take me dancing now I was charmed.I had come to South America to get over someone after an awful breakup, and so I wasn t looking for anything I wanted zero complications Right Sure As I said to myself on several occasions So nothing happened that night Nothing happened the next night either, or any of the nights that followed as we got involved in the strange life of Quito, and dealt with death threats and psychotic outbreaks and false passports and the other things affecting our circle of friends And we got to know each other quite well We went away together for a couple of weekends, and talked about past relationships and most evenings in Ecuador ended with us on our balcony as the sun came up, finishing a bottle of rum and sharing stories We both had a couple of flings with random people, but nothing very serious.And then eventually after nine months or so I d run out of money, and some job offer had come through in England, and I found myself spending the last of my funds on a plane ticket back to London We drank a lot in my final week On the last night we just sat on our balcony for hours and had a bottle of rum and listened to the sounds coming out of the karaoke bar two doors down And when we went back inside she brought me into her room, for the first time since I d arrived, to say goodbye And I don t know if it was because of timidity or inexperience or a desire not to spoil anything, or drunkenness, or accumulated misunderstanding, but neither of us did anything except say goodnight and goodbye.And I m very annoyed about it After everything we went through we deserved to have it end in some shared moment of sexiness, instead of petering out the way it did You worry a lot about situations like that when you re in them, and then later you realize that you were worrying about exactly the wrong aspects of them.I have no room left to actually review this book, except to say that the situation I m badly describing is one that novelists don t often try to address, preferring as they do to deal with actual, rather than potential, love affairs But this book does, and it does it really well It s the 20s, not the 90s it s Yorkshire, not Ecuador she s a vicar s wife, not a Swedish charity worker most of all, he s a shell shocked First World War veteran instead of a lazy arts graduate Even so, there are moments where you recognize every word.