A Month in the Country

by J. L. Carr

Paperback, 2000

Call number




NYRB Classics (2000), Edition: First Edition, 135 pages


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.Copyright © Libri GmbH. All rights reserved.

Media reviews

The Guardian
Reissued as part of the Penguin Decades series, JL Carr's slender, Booker-shortlisted and semi-autobiographical novel was published in 1980 but looks back to an earlier time. The narrator, Tom Birkin, reflects on a summer spent in the small Yorkshire village of Oxgodby in 1920. Near destitute and
Show More
still visibly shaken by his experiences during the first world war and through the painful break-up of his marriage, he has been assigned the job of restoring a medieval mural hidden beneath whitewash on the wall of the village church. As he painstakingly removes several centuries' worth of paint and grime he becomes gradually less closed off and begins to make friends within the community, in particular with Moon, another war veteran, who is camped in the churchyard, ostensibly looking for a lost grave. As Birkin uncovers patches of gilt and cinnabar up on his scaffold, Moon digs his pits outside the church walls; both of them are striving for some sort of, if not restoration, then freedom from their past, and for Birkin, at least, his stay at Oxgodby is a time of healing. Slim as it is, this is a tender and elegant novel that seemingly effortlessly weaves several strands together. Carr has a knack for bringing certain scenes into sudden, sharp focus, rather as waves lift forgotten things to the surface. He writes with particular precision and admiration about the joys of skilled men going about their business. He also subtly evokes lost rural customs and ways of living that, even at the time, had begun to fade from view: cart rides and seed cake and honey-thick accents that had not yet been filed down by mass communication. The sense of things lost to time is pronounced but not overplayed and there's a gently elegiac quality to the developing picture of a warm and hazy English countryside summer. This pleasant vision is countered by his rawer and more acute account of the deep mark left on a man when a chance of happiness is glimpsed and missed and left to settle in the memory.
Show Less

User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Set just after the end of WWI, A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr is Tom Birkin's memories of a summer he spent in the northern village of Oxgodby and how it helped him to recover from the war. Birkin came to restore a painting on the wall of the local church, sleeping in the belfry and trying to
Show More
make his small payment last as long as he can make it. The painting he uncovers enthralls him; it's more than just another quick decoration for the medieval artist who painted it and Birkin is drawn in to its complexity. Working in the churchyard below is another veteran, Moon, who has been hired to find the grave of his benefactor's ancestor. Through his friendship with Moon, the reticent but sincere relationships he forms with people in the village and especially the visits of the rector's wife, Birkin is brought back into living fully.

Which makes this book sound kind of slow and boring, doesn't it? There's a real charm to A Month in the Country, not in a chocolate box illustration sweetness, but in the way the harsh northerners and a shell-shocked Londoner find contentment in knowing each other. And in the understated friendship he forms with Moon, who has his own war-related demons to fight. Carr writes beautifully in an understated way that perfectly suits the story he's written. This is a book that, for an hour or two (it's a very slender book), immerses the reader in slowly clearing whitewash off of an old wall painting, revealing inch by inch the saints and sinners hidden for centuries, eating Sunday dinner with the station master's family, smoking Woodbines while leaning on tombstones while Moon talks about what lays underneath the meadow and hoping that the vicar's wife will stop by for a visit soon. This is a book that reads like a summer afternoon.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lkernagh
What a wonderful, soft spoken novel. A perfect read for a lazy, hot, sunny August afternoon. Carr imbues the story with a sense of loss, be it for times gone past, for lost loves and lost opportunities or just the “warm hug” feeling of poignant memories of a distant summer. The story has a
Show More
gentleness to it, dwelling on the idyll, even when fleeting memories of the horrors of war past are evoked. It is a story of a summer of contentment, of making that turning point from scarred past into hopeful future. I particularly love how Carr presents the atmosphere of happy contentment as a series of understated contemplative moments, in line with Birkin’s gentle labours to bring to light the wonderful mural on the church wall buried beneath centuries of grime, where discovery is like a jigsaw puzzle – starting out as a series of seemingly unconnected pieces that with time, come together to present a coherent picture to marvel at. As one reviewer, Ingrid Norton, has commented, “Carr’s great art is to make it clear that joy is inseparable from the pain and oblivion which unmakes it. In a world where the most vivid heavens and hells are of our creation, Carr suggests, paradise and purgatory are deeply personal. What we value in life, then, may also be the most difficult to share.” Overall, a wonderfully rewarding read, and a reminder of just how life’s moments can become a precious fountain of evocative memories that can be experienced over and over again.
Show Less
LibraryThing member brenzi
This quiet little book packed a powerful punch. Tom Birkin has returned from World War I much changed. He's accepted a job in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby to remove the whitewash covering an ancient mural in the local church. In the summer he spends there, as he is constantly reminded of
Show More
the breath taking scenery outside the bell tower's window, he uncovers the ancient depiction of the apocalypse. But it is the presence of the rector's wife that allows him to eventually heal and leave the church at the end of the summer, forever changed.

Beautifully written, with touches of light humor, Carr's narrative had me marking the many lovely passages that appear in a steady stream.

"Standing up there on the platform before a great work of art, feeling kinship with its creator, cozily knowing that I was a sort of impresario conjuring and teasing back his work after four hundred years of darkness. But that wasn't all of it. There was 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 country." (Page 83)

Beautiful and highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
A Month in the Country is a quiet, contemplative novella of just over 100 pages. Its impact sneaks up on you; in fact, I think I've divined greater meaning in my post-reading reflections than I did in the act of reading itself. Tom Birkin survived life at the front and returned home with a facial
Show More
tic and serious emotional scars. When the book opens in 1920, he has just arrived in the north English village of Oxgoodby, where he is to restore a 14th-century wall painting in the church. He has no money, so he establishes a small camp in the belfry. He soon meets Charles Moon, a fellow veteran camping in the adjacent meadow. Moon has been hired to find a grave; both men's jobs are required by the estate of a recently departed village resident.

As the two men settle into their work they find a certain rhythm, sharing meals, coffee and the occasional pint. Birkin is also visited by several villagers. Some are unhappy with his presence -- like the vicar himself, who resents the intrusion in his sanctuary. Others think Birkin something of a curiosity (he's from the south, after all), and still others value his friendship. Alice Keach, the vicar's young and attractive wife, is a regular visitor, and their attraction to each other is palpable, and quite touching.

Birkin's art restoration serves as a metaphor for his psychological healing. As the painting's brilliant hues emerge from beneath the whitewash that kept it hidden for centuries, the weight falls from Birkin's shoulders. He begins to take part more actively in village life, and takes great pleasure in the seemingly endless summer weather. As the restoration nears completion, he can envision a "life after Oxgodby" that he would never have thought possible.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Jargoneered
Short novel about a young man uncovering a fresco in a village church in the summer of 1920.

Tom Birkin, as an old man looks back to the time when he was a WWI survivor with a nervous facial tick and had been deserted by his wife, and when travelled to the village of Oxgodby to uncover a mural found
Show More
in the local church. There he meets Moon, another WWI veteran, who is supposedly there to find an unmarked grave but is actually using the time to study the remains of an old church. This brings both of them into contact with the Reverend Keach and his wife Alice, whom Birkin falls in love with.
Birkin is also dragged into the life of the Ellerbecks, which leads him into the Wesleyan community, Sunday school and preaching.

It would be easy to dismiss this novel as a piece of nostalgia - the village of Oxgodby is standard creation in English bucolic literature: remote from the trappings of "civilisation", strong sense of community, nestled in beautiful countryside, etc. - but Carr's approach is more interesting than that; if this is nostalgia it is nostalgia for what could have been rather than what was. The villagers are not the collection of eccentrics that so often provide local colour, they are portrayed as real individuals - no more tellingly than in the case of the Reverend Keach, who could so easily have been the pantomime villain but Carr cleverly flips our exceptions to create a sympathetic character, one who is at much at sea as the two veterans.

Carr could just as easily have bathed his characters in bathos, hammering in the tragedy of the Great War. What we get are glimpses, small memories that makes the sense of loss more poignant. We also get honesty - when it is revealed that Moon was dishonourably discharged from the service for immorality, despite being awarded medals for bravery, Birkin is indignant but admits that the relationship between the two of them was never the same again.

The book is beautifully structured; Birkin arriving in the rain, spending a perfect summer in the country, and leaving as the coldness of autumn is in the air. He finishes uncovering the fresco, which is revealed to a be masterpiece; Moon finds the body outside the graveyard and both discoveries are beautifully dovetailed. In the end, the true revelations are one of self.

Subtle and full of grace, Carr's prose is wonderful at revealing the small moments in life that are the really important, that we are often drawn back to the momentary window of opportunity that has disappeared almost before we have acknowledged it's existence.

Like the summer in the novel - gentle, refreshing, beautiful.
Show Less
LibraryThing member thorold
In the summer of 1920, Tom Birkin and Charles Moon, both veterans of the Great War, find themselves working in the North Riding village of Oxgodby. Birkin is restoring a medieval wall-painting in the church, whilst the archaeologist Moon is supposed to be looking for a tomb. Both projects have been
Show More
imposed on the disapproving vicar by an eccentric bequest. But in spite of this frosty reception, we soon see the work, the tranquil atmosphere and association with the down-to-earth villagers starting to undo some of the damage they have brought back from the war with them.

Moon, as we see right from the start ("the three holes in the tunic’s shoulders where his captain’s pips had been...") is officer-class but has somehow fallen from grace, and has a hard time getting acceptance from the locals, but they recognise Birkin - despite his southern accent and art-training - as "one of us". He approaches his work like an artisan, and that's clearly how he's been trained, by a master-craftsman whose skills may well go right back to the generation of the anonymous master who painted the Oxgodby Doom. The villagers respond to that, and Birkin is soon being summoned to have his Sunday lunch with the stationmaster's family and integrated, despite his protests, into the life of the Wesleyan Chapel. But he's also starting to make friends with the grumpy vicar's beautiful wife...

It's a lovely, tantalising little story, in which not much appears to happen on the surface, but a great deal obviously does shift to help Birkin grow beyond the troubled state he's in at the beginning of the story. And it's interesting how in the end it seems to be his association with the very "ordinary" Ellerby family that has had a much profounder effect on him than the exotically erotic plotline we were looking forward to! The respect with which Carr treats the Ellerbys - who could so easily just have been played for laughs - is wonderful and astonishing (until we reflect that they probably have more than a slight resemblance to Carr's own family...). And they are so very real. You can easily imagine being sucked in by a family like that and signed up to look after the "dafties" in the Sunday School or sent out without any qualifications or experience to preach in the most obscure little chapel in the Circuit because no-one else is available. (In fact, I don't need to imagine it - something very similar to that happened to me in my Yorkshire days...).
Show Less
LibraryThing member Smiler69
In 1920, Tom Birkin, a young art restorer who's fought in the war and come out suffering from shell shock, is hired by a small village church in Oxgodby, Yorkshire to uncover beneath a layer of whitewash what is suspected to be a mural from the middle ages. He makes friends with another war veteran
Show More
working on the grounds of the same church, archeologist Charles Moon, who has been hired with the same funds originating from a wealthy recently deceased old woman, who desired that the tomb of one of her ancestors who had been buried outside church grounds sometime in the 14th century be found. Tom is paid a pittance for his efforts, but he hardly minds this; he sees this contract as an opportunity to spend the summer in the country, away from London and the stresses of city life and an unhappy marriage to an unfaithful young woman he'd barely known when they'd married. The discomfort of sleeping almost directly on the floor just below the belfry is amply compensated for by the healing benefits of his stay in Oxgodby and his daily contact with Moon, with whom they establish a daily ritual of breakfast before setting to work. The work itself proves incredibly rewarding as he uncovers what is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but perhaps best of all are the unexpected friendships he makes with some of the village people, some of whom take him into their small community and seem to want to convince him to stay among them for good. And then of course there's the reverend's wife, Alice Keach, a young woman of great beauty, whom he knows instinctively cannot be happy with her husband, and if he only had the courage, might perhaps be willing...

My only regret with this book was that I wasn't able to fully plunge into it as I would have liked to. It's such a short work, that I felt it would have been best ingested in one or two, or three sittings at most. But I read it at night just before sleep and always fatigued as I am, couldn't keep awake beyond a dozen pages or so at a time, and it seemed to me the effect was diluted. Still, I can hardly fault the book for this, and it only gives me another excuse for revisiting it, perhaps making room for it in daytime hours next time. Perfectly charming.
Show Less
LibraryThing member wandering_star
1920, Yorkshire. A man called Birkin arrives in a small village in the pouring rain, and tramps up to the local church, where he beds down. It turns out that he has been asked to restore a medieval mural there - rather against the will of the vicar.

Birkin feels a bit of a misfit when he arrives,
Show More
but then he does anywhere - suffering both from his experiences of the war, and from an unhappy marriage. (There are also glimpses of the social changes triggered by the war which would eventually make everyone over a certain age feel slightly unsure of the ground under their feet.)

But gradually he acquires some allies in the village and starts to feel in place there - even if only for a few brief summer months: it turns out that the story is being narrated from many years later, when this was a golden memory, melancholy only because it was so far in the past.

This is a deceptively simple read, with a lightly humorous and sometimes bittersweet tone: not much may actually happen, but there are many subtle touches which cumulatively make this a beautiful and moving book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ctpress
The marvelous thing was coming into this haven of calm water and, for a season, not having to worry my head with anything but uncovering their wall-painting for them. And, afterwards, perhaps I could make a new start, forget what the War and the rows with Vinny had done to me and begin where I’d
Show More
left off. This is what I need, I thought – a new start and, afterwards, maybe I won’t be a casualty anymore. Well, we live by hope.

Tom Birkin is a shell-shocked survivor of WWI that arrives to Oxgodby, a remote village in Yorkshire, where he’s got the job of restoring a medieval mural in the local church.

The events is told by Tom in old age, looking back at a beautiful summer where he had a fresh start in life. He has been deserted by his wife who has moved in with a lover, he is very poor and is forced to life in the small bell tower, yet he is thrilled at the opportunity to uncover the painting.

The stranger in the close-knit community is slowly involved in the lives of the people - and he befriends the beautiful wife of the vicar who often visits the church and watch him work. Slowly he falls in love - and he has a choice to make.

This is a little gem of a novel (140 pages) and beautifully written - with a strong sense of place. Tom Birkin is such a simple, gentle spirit - he doesn’t demand a lot out of life. He’s a lost soul that is awakened to life again through the lives he touches in the community. Not to a happily ever after, but just to join the human race again.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Cariola
Not as good as I had hoped, but still a fairly enjoyable read. Birkin, a somewhat shell-shocked World War I vet, is sent to a remote English town to restore a mural in the local church. Thanks to the receptiveness of the locals, he almost feels a part of life again--and then it is time for him to
Show More
move along.
Show Less
LibraryThing member libbromus
This book reminded me of the writing of Penelope Fitzgerald in length and tone. Style was different, though I can't put my finger on the how. I would describe them both as honest, insightful, and straightforward writers but still they are different.
I liked Tom from the get-go and all the village
Show More
seemed to feel the same. Moon's story would be an interesting sequel and I would have loved to know more about Alice Keach.
Show Less
LibraryThing member danlai
I stole this book from the library’s lost and found. It was my college library, where I worked, and I stole it on the first of two late night shifts I ever worked there. (Was it two? Was it three? This is embarrassing for me, I should remember. I only left this job on the 9th, and its only two
Show More
weeks later, the 23rd). My friends and coworkers Sarah and Vicky let me go through the lost and found while they inventoried and packed up items to be donated. I left the job because I was graduating and was no longer allowed to work there, being a non-student. It was the best job I ever had, and I made so many friends there that I loved.

Leaving the library also meant leaving the town that I spent the last four years in. It was a lot of goodbyes, not only to the best people I ever met, but to a lovely and gorgeous town that I fell in love with. I didn’t want to stay, because with so many friends graduating and moving away, I knew it wouldn’t be the same. Best not overstay my welcome.

It feels like I was meant to pick this book up because it is also about goodbyes. The book is very short (135 pages), and it’s because it doesn’t want to linger on something so good. It knows that to do so risks the chance of ruining the experience. It’s a choice that our narrator is afraid to make. Our narrator is Mr. Birken, and after having survived World War I and after his wife leaves him for another man, he has moved to the small town of Oxgodby in order to uncover and restore a church mural depicting the apocalypse.

Something strange is going on with Birken and I am not sure what it is quite yet. The war has obviously unhinged him, and he must be freshly aware of his mortality. He is happy in this new town, and he is slowly integrating himself into it more and more. But there is a faint lingering terror behind things that is only glimpsed at in tiny moments. He is in some ways trying to converse with the past by uncovering the mural, yet Oxgodby is also an opportunity for him to forget the past and reinvent himself. This is a fresh beginning for him, but the painting itself is both the reason why he has this opportunity and also symbolic of something very threatening to this opportunity. He briefly recognizes something dangerous within it, and it terrifies him that it is found in Oxgodby, this beautiful town that is saving him. Yet the painting is also one of the most beautiful things he’s ever seen.

I don’t want to give too much away by talking endlessly about symbolism and character development, not there is much to be spoiled here. The events in the book are almost banal. It’s a damn good book and you should read it.

One last thing: our narrator at one point imagines the voice of the painter. The painter says, “If any part of me survives from time’s corruption, let it be this. For this was the sort of man I was.” Our narrator tells this story to us at a much later point in time. He is telling this story to us because this is what he wants to be remembered out of his life, this brief month in the country. It may very well be the most important and cherished time in his life. Above all things this book is about love. Love of living, love of the possibilities of life. That alone makes the book worth reading.
Show Less
LibraryThing member NeilDalley
Superb. This is such a wonderfully atmospheric book and evokes a forgotten world of summers long ago. When I started reading it the sun was shining and it fitted the mood of the book so well. The beautiful summer month in the country proves to be a wonderful cure, even if the story is shot through
Show More
with pain from the past here love is found.
Show Less
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
World War I veteran Tom Birkin arrives in the village of Oxgodby shortly after the war's end. He has been hired to restore (uncover) a recently discovered medieval wall painting in the village church. His wife has left him, and he is suffering from the trauma of the war, although he was not
Show More
physically wounded. Over the course of a summer, as he takes part in village activities, befriends a fellow veteran, and has a brief, barely there, flirtation with the pastor's wife, he heals.

This was a book I fully expected to love, based on positive reviews and the recommendations of readers I respect. I found it to be competent, but a bit overhyped. The book just didn't particularly shine for me. And I know that the narrator is supposedly looking back from old age into the summer of 1920 when the events depicted took place, but I often did not have the feeling that I was in 1920, viewing things through a 1920 lens. Rather than feeling like real experiences, it felt imagined, and I often just that a modern person is telling me what he thought it was like. Not sure this makes sense. I guess I just mean to say that the book didn't engulf me with its reality.

3 stars
Show Less
LibraryThing member ablueidol
Takes place in 1920 when two men are thrown together by the will request of a lady of the manor. The one to uncover a medieval painting the other to find the grave of an excommunicated medieval ancestor. Both are scarred by the war in different ways but the tasks and the community allow for a
Show More
healing of sorts. All very English of unstated strong feelings and possibilities unlived as various loves remain unrequited.

Hence why it made a brilliant film...There's no need to rush this movie, it's here to be savoured. If Colin Firth & Kenneth Branagh weren't enough of a temptation (both looking disgracefully young), the colour and pace of this film are delightful. Layers of paint are dabbed away showing a beautiful medieval painting, while layers of emotion are oh-so-subtly revealed too. I loved the understated approach to portraying the trauma of attempting to ease back into a 'normal' life after experiencing the 'hell on earth ' of trench warfare. I now want a month in the country! Enjoy this one with a bowl of fresh braeburn apples...
Show Less
LibraryThing member knittingfreak
The edition I read is a beautiful copy from the Folio Society. The cover art and the illustrations inside are absolutely gorgeous. This is a short little book (my edition came in at 121 pages), which on the surface seems to be about nothing much at all. However, this initial impression is quite
Show More
deceptive. My favorite thing about the book hands-down is the setting. Carr does a wonderful job of evoking a sense of time and place. The book is set in the small village of Oxgodby, a rural area of Yorkshire just after the end of WWI. Tom Birkin has come to Oxgodby to rescue an old mural in the local church, much to the dismay of the Vicar. When he arrives, Tom is still trying to cope with everything he experienced during the war, as well as the fact that his wife ran off. Tom begins the slow process of healing as he slowly immerses himself in the slow paced village life in Oxgodby. In addition to the beautiful setting, the quirky characters and some tough subject matter, there is also humor in this tiny little book. Reading this book made me want to slow down, which is definitely a good thing for me. Go on over to Cornflower Books and you can read what everyone else thought about the book. Most everyone liked it; though, there were a couple people who felt it lacked enough action for their tastes. For me, that is precisely what made this book enjoyable. For me, characters, setting and language always win out over plot any day.
Show Less
LibraryThing member nicx27
This is the tale of Tom Birkin's time in the country in 1920, when he travelled to Oxgodby to uncover a wall painting in the local church. He meets with another survivor of World War I, becomes friendly with some of the local people, and falls in love.

It's a pleasant little book but, despite it's
Show More
short length, I did find it a little heavy to read. Not a great deal happens, but perhaps that is part of its charm. I did find the characterisations amusing and well done, and the story was reasonably enjoyable.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Osbaldistone
One of those books that leaves you with a sense of loss when finished, wishing the author had written a sequel, but knowing there should be no sequel (sort of the point of the story, really). A short fiction, seemingly not about much, but an engaging writing style; and several surprises crop up
Show More
during the short time the narrator spends in Oxgodby, working on restoration of a medieval chancel painting. As you get into the feel of the period (1920 village/rural northern England), you begin to see what has disappeared, for better or for worse, and you realize the surprises in the story really shouldn't have been surprising at all.

Show Less
LibraryThing member skybluejay
This is a near-perfect little novel. Tranquil, understated, yet one of the most affecting and devastatingly true books I have ever read, it will be imprinted on my brain forever.
LibraryThing member nigeyb
A gorgeous eulogy for the perfect Summer

Birkin, a damaged World War One veteran, is employed to a find and restore a mural in a village church, whilst another veteran is employed to look for a grave beyond the churchyard walls. The writer looks back 58 years later, and as an old man, on his idyllic
Show More
Summer of 1920. The bitter-sweet happiness the writer describes feels fragile and ephemeral which makes the story all the more beautiful, powerful and haunting. This short book packs so much in: love, loss, social history, the way the past impinges on the present, ageing, war, nature, relationships, spirituality, religion, pain, healing, happiness, and disappointment. Beyond that, the less you know about this book the better, suffice it to say it's a masterpiece and you should read it.

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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member OmieWise
A classic. Truly. Every time I read it I think it's more technically and artistically perfect.
LibraryThing member Widsith
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
Show More
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 Medellín 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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member japaul22
This is an excellent short book about the aftermath of WWI for one young man. Tom Birkin shows up in a small English village to uncover a Medieval era mural in the village church. It is 1920 and he is suffering from shell shock after his time in the War. In this quiet village, he seems to find some
Show More
peace, connecting with another war veteran working on a different project at the church and also with some of the locals. It isn't to be expected that his peace will continue upon finishing his project and leaving the village, but the book is told from the point of view of his old age which reveals just how much this short time in his life meant to him. This is a quiet book but it isn't a simple one. There is some quiet humor and Carr leaves a lot to the reader to fill in which I really liked.
Show Less
LibraryThing member TimBazzett
J. L. Carr's novel, A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, first published in 1980, has quietly become a modern classic. At less than 150 pages, it is indeed a small gem filled with gentle, redemptive moments and a quirky humor that sneaks up on you. Told by Tom Birkin, a shell-shocked veteran of the Great War,
Show More
and set in and around a small village in the north of England in 1920, the kindly village residents and the soft summer days play prominent roles in aiding Tom's recovery. I was reminded of Pat Barker's trilogy of WWI novels, but less intense and on a much smaller scale. A quiet anti-war novel with a pastoral feel, I found every part of this novel pitch perfect. I am so glad I've read it. (Thanks to James Mustich for including it in his wonderful 1,000 BOOKS tome.) My very highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
Show Less
LibraryThing member otterley
Two former soldiers find themselves in a Yorkshire village after the first world war, given quests in the will of an eccentric old lady. The two tasks turn out to be interlinked, and to be another tale of war and return from the mediaeval era. Carr slips in meditations on the nature of love and
Show More
religion, community and the passage of time, as well as comedy, romance and pathos in a deceptively slim novel.
Show Less




0940322471 / 9780940322479
Page: 0.2513 seconds