Sunday, 12 September 2021

“A Month in the Country" by J. L. Carr - review

 

“A Month in the County“ by J. L. Carr:


This book caught my eye and attention with its cover. I had just finished “The Offing” by Benjamin Myers (published 2019) with a very similar cover, depicting a rural picturesque countryside and I was hooked. Later I learned that it was published in 1980, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, won the Guardian fiction prize,  was made into a film and is considered a small masterpiece. 


The cover proved to be not the only parallel. 

In both books a war has just ended (World War One in “A Month in the Country“,  World War Two in “The Offing“).

In both books the main character sets out on a journey to the countryside of England. 

In both books the country life, the landscape, the resplendent golden summer, nature, the local people, all set in motion a turn of states, a revelatory or healing process after which life for the narrator will not be the same again.  

Both books touch on great themes of literature: life, death, love, art and loss. 

Both books at times read like an elegy to an England now gone, an ode to nature. 

Both books are quiet, undramatic, contemplative, often lyrical. 


Tom Birkin, a World War I veteran, arrives in the village of Oxgodby in Yorkshire where he had been offered the job of restoring a medieval mural, recently discovered in the local church. Tom suffers not only from the physical and mental wounds the war dealt him, he must also come to terms with his recently broken marriage. Tom is very much in need of healing. 


In the village he meets another war veteran, Moon, an archaeologist in search of a lost grave. Tom resides in the bell tower of the church while Moon lives in a tented pit in the field. Both men are marked by war and bitter experiences of sex, but where Tom is right from the start welcomed by the villagers, Moon does not get the same treatment. 

The days move on, summer proceeds and finally comes to an end, both men finish the task they were asked to do, Moon finding the lost grave and its surprising content and Tom successfully restoring the lost mural.


But Tom realizes that his soul, too has been given a restorative touch, a healing has set in and he leaves this place, always later thinking gratefully of it as the point from where his life began to leave the atrocities of war behind and took on a hopeful, optimistic view on life.


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