Book Review: A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr (New York Review Books, 2000)

I was blown away by this book. In just 135 pages Carr creates an entire summer. A village full of evocative and fascinating characters and an exploration of life, death, and love.

After seeing A Month in the Country on a list of books recommended by Michael Ondaatje I found it available at my local library. I was prepared for a poetic sort of English pastoral story but there is so much more here.

Tom Birkin reflects back on the summer he spent in Oxgodby, a simple English village. Birkin comes from London but he has recently served in World War One and bears the heavy burden of his memories. These take a physical form in a sort of facial twitch and an occasional stammer. Birkin has been hired to reveal and restore a medieval painting, hidden under whitewash and four hundred years of dirt on the walls of the church. He has a vague sort of patron in that a recently deceased woman in the community left behind money for the church, if they supported this unveiling. She is also behind the hiring of Charles Moon, who is searching for a burial site outside the church.

Moon lives in a tent in the meadow while Birkin camps out in the bell tower. They have both survived the war and bear the marks both physical and emotional. They form a sort of friendship and their conversations are some of the most interesting of the book, as they talk around their traumas and histories.

The action of the novel is simple. There’s no mystery, there’s no great reveal. This is a story of people, of human nature. Birkin narrates from decades later in life, looking back at this brief interlude. At one point he describes something that happens and then says it felt like a dream. And there is a dreamlike quality to the whole book, a tale of a time unrelated to the rest of Birkin’s life yet central to who he will become.

Overall, this is simply a beautifully written book and one I enjoyed thoroughly.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr”

  1. Oh, I’m so glad to hear you loved this one since it’s sitting on my TBR – I shall promptly go and shove it up the priority list! It seems to be one of those semi-hidden gems – I only heard about it through another glowing blog review ages ago.

    1. According to the introduction, Carr’s other work is not so accessible but I gather this one won some awards when it came out. I found out about it on a list of recommended books from Michael Ondaatje, one of my favourite writers.

    1. It’s a simple story but he packs in so much about war and trauma and love, it’s amazing. I hope it’s more that the good quality books last than that books are getting more complicated!

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