A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

05 Mar

A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the quiet village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the countryside and the unchanging rhythms of village life he experiences a sense of renewal and belief in the future. Now an old man, Birkin looks back on the idyllic summer of 1920, remembering a vanished place of blissful calm, untouched by change, a precious moment he has carried with him through the disappointments of the years.

It’s been an utter pleasure rereading this splendid short book, heading back to 1920’s Oxgodby and its five hundred year old church painting. Reacquainting myself with the inhabitants, and a way of life lost to time reminded me of Carr’s evocative prose and the beauty of the English countryside.

This is a great story to get lost in – one which demands repeat readings be savoured – it really accentuates the little things in life, those wondrous things that surround us, yet seem hidden in plain sight until viewed in hindsight. There is a comforting sense of isolation here, a total delight to be immersed in.

The plot revolves around the methodical and gradual uncovering of a medieval wall painting and this also extends to the personalities of the  people.  As time moves on there is a slow exposing of both, as well as the social life of the village.  All this is played out in such a relaxed manner that the under the surface busyness is very subtly played out.

Birkin’s love for mechanisms and how the parts slot together are a fitting metaphor for how he sees the community and also in a literal sense of the time. There is a feeling of being on the cusp of changes in his life, in the rhythms of countryside and nature and how the industrial age is really starting to impact the isolated countryside.  It’s pleasurably melancholy and allows readers of any age to feel the loss of what once was.

My reading of this book was very visual.  it’s one of those experiences that is difficult to explain, yet very vivid in my mind.  The sharpness of the details and descriptions were in stark contrast to the dreamlike nature of it all, and the blurred edge atmosphere that I experienced, if you know what I mean.  This peaceful novel is all about time and timelessness, of restoration and alienation in a world on the brink of change.

This moving tale also has the a little bit of the unashamedly impenetrable Yorkshire accent but not enough to confuse (anyone British, at any rate), unlike the bloke from Wuthering Heights who was just beyond me.  The effusive talk about paint was a further charm to this work, making me want to learn about colours and techniques.  Birkin’s connection with the enigma of a long dead artist and his motives for painting particular details make it an absolute joy to be lost in.  It’s one of those books I’m really glad to have read and to be able to share, with its message of enduring and embracing what we have, when we have it.


Posted by on 05/03/2018 in Fiction


Tags: , , , , , , ,

11 responses to “A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

  1. Sheila

    06/03/2018 at 02:32

    I’ll definitely have to read this. It sounds a little like “The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod” by Henry Beston. That’s one of my favorite books because of the nature descriptions and the way nature heals the author. The medieval wall painting sounds intriguing too. Thank you – I’ll have to try to get to this one soon!


    • Ste J

      06/03/2018 at 07:33

      I will reciprocate and look for a copy of The Outermost House. Books like these really are wonderful to read and that wall painting will have you intrigued, it’s written about so delicately and sparingly but in such an inviting way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sheila

        06/03/2018 at 09:26

        Great idea! That should be fun to compare them and I’ll look forward to that peaceful feeling while reading.


  2. Liz

    06/03/2018 at 04:00

    I have got this one on my shelves somewhere – am off to dig it out. Thanks for the nudge!


    • Ste J

      06/03/2018 at 06:46

      Yes! Especially after your tour of to the graveyards last year, that will add something to your reading as well. I love this book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Liz

        07/03/2018 at 00:21

        Good point! Probably should also dig out my copies of Birdsong and the Regeneration Trilogy. We’ll be going back to Etaples next year…


        • Ste J

          07/03/2018 at 06:58

          I still need to read both of those, they left in the great purge of 2017 but I look forward to reading them one day.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Liz Dexter

    06/03/2018 at 22:49

    This sounds wonderful. Was it odd reading it in your current setting, though?


    • Ste J

      07/03/2018 at 06:57

      Believe it or not, it wasn’t too bad as the heat of Summer means that people in our subdivisions tend to avoid going out at the hottest time of day so it is all quiet and I can get lost in the Englishness and embrace (kind of) the heat. I thought reading all manner of books would be different here but it isn’t really too different. Maybe if I was reading on a busy street in Manila it would be, I will check that out sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Clare Pooley

    07/03/2018 at 08:29

    One of my very favourite books! I must read it again.


    • Ste J

      07/03/2018 at 08:48

      When I started reading it again, I realised it is one of my favourites too, so glad it came across with me and can now be shared in person, far from home shores.

      Liked by 1 person


Tell me stuff...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: