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Carr, J. L. A Month in the Country

ISBN 13: 9781773231358

A Month in the Country

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9781773231358: A Month in the Country
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A sensitive portrayal of the healing process that took place in the aftermath of the First World War, J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country includes an introduction by Penelope Fitzgerald, author of Offshore, in Penguin Modern Classics. 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. Adapted into a 1987 film starring Colin Firth, Natasha Richardson and Kenneth Branagh, A Month in the Country traces the slow revival of the primeval rhythms of life so cruelly disorientated by the Great War Joseph Lloyd Carr (1912-1994) attended the village school at Carlton Miniott in the North Riding and Castleford Secondary School. A head teacher, publisher and novelist, his books include A Day in Summer (1964); The Harpole Report (1972); A Month in the Country (1980), which won the Guardian Fiction prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Battle of Pollock's Crossing (1985), which was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize; What Hetty Did (1988) and Harpole and Foxberrow, General Publishers (1992). If you enjoyed A Month in the Country, you might like Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, also available in Penguin Modern Classics. 'Unlike anything else in modern English literature' D.J. Taylor, Spectator

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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

About the Author:
James Lloyd Carr, born 1912, attended the village school at Carlton Miniott in the North Riding and Castleford Secondary School. He died in Northamptonshire in 1994. His novel A Month in the Country won the Guardian Fiction Prize, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a memorable film.

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