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A Month In The Country
by Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, Trans. By Constance Black Garnett
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Any good reader has, well, had it with novels of healing. The culture of confession has given rise to novels that begin with an unspeakable act (graphically described) and end in redemption (this part is usually more vague). That's not how it works in J.L. Carr's quiet, brief, dreamy A Month in the Country. Writing in 1978, Carr's narrator, Tom Birkin, recalls the summer of 1920. A veteran of the Great War and a cuckold, Tom arrives in Oxgodby to restore a medieval mural in the church. His single season in this town in the north of England passes quickly: he sleeps in the belfry, makes a friend or two, falls secretly in love with the vicar's wife, and, chipping away at plaster and dirt, uncovers a lost masterpiece. These events seem to melt past Tom in the heat of the perfect, fleeting English summer: "The front gardens of cottages were crammed with marjoram and roses, marguerites, sweet William, at night heavy with the scent of stocks. 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."
Carr devotes many fewer words to Tom's time in the war. The vicar's wife tries to ask him about it. "'What about hell on earth?' she said. I told her I'd seen it and lived there and that, mercifully, they usually left an exit open." His healing consists of not talking about his past--perhaps a revolutionary notion these days. A Month in the Country, with its paean to a lost, good place, oddly recalls Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. But where that novel was elliptical, Carr's work values clarity and simplicity above all. These are rare enough qualities, but to find them in a novel of romance and healing is a rarer pleasure still. --Claire Dederer
From Library Journal
Protagonist Tom Birkin is a broken man. Haunted by his experiences in the trenches of World War I and recovering from a divorce, Birkin accepts a job restoring a medieval mural of the apocalypse in a church located in a remote corner of Yorkshire. It is here, however, that Birkin, though alone with only an interpretation of the world's end for company, learns to live again. Carr's small gem of a novel was first published in 1980.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The New Yorker
"Carr's...small tale of lost love is also a small hymn about art and the compensating joy of the artist..."
The Washington Post
''A unique and special experience, a visit to a special time and place, deeply observed and portrayed in beautiful prose.''
A four-year veteran of WWI, Tom Birkin has been left with a post-traumatic facial tic and stutter. In the summer of 1920, he is hired to uncover a medieval church painting in the Yorkshire village of Oxgodby. Filled with the period detail of a kinder, gentler time, Birkin's reflection is a sweet exploration of his healing process. Narrator Nick Rawlinson enhances Carr's elegant prose, moving Birkin from an early, deeply felt sense of resignation into a world of possibility. Rawlinson's performance of the locals who befriend Birkin, their Yorkshire accents, their country ways, is flawless. As Birkin restores the apocalyptic masterpiece, unlikely friendships, the woman he falls chastely in love with, and the lush summer landscapes all work their magic on a man nearly broken by war. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2003, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
''Unlike anything else in modern English Literature.''
''Carr has the magic touch to re-enter the imagined past.''
''The work is virtually perfect, and written with a great deal of liveliness and wit.''
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.
About the Author
James Lloyd Carr (1912-1994) worked as head teacher, novelist, and publisher. His books include A Season in Sinji, The Harpole Report, What Hetty Did, A Month in the Country and The Battle of Pollocks Crossing. The last two books were shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and A Month in the Country won the Guardian Fiction Prize.
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