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A Month in the Country


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J.L. Carr's most famous book takes place in a Yorkshire village in 1920, where Great War veteran Tom Birkin arrives on a commission to restore an ancient painting in the local church. He meets the locals and the few other strangers living in the village and settles in for the summer. And the best parts are descriptions of summer and the village and way of life in that part of the world at that time. Like this passage, when he joins the church outing:

<blockquote>And then they came, the morning sun gleaming on their chestnut and black backs, glinting from the martingales medalled like generals. Their manes were plaited with patriotic ribbons, their harnesses glossed - those great magical creatures soon to disappear from the highways and turning farrow. Did I know it even then? I suppose not, nor anyone else in Oxgoodby. From childhood, they had always known the sound of hooves fitfully beating stable floors in the night hours and the bitter smell of burning horn at the smithy. How could they foresee that, in a few brief years, their fellow sharers of field and road would be gone forever?




And, strolling mildly across a steep grassy embankment, an immense White Horse, a gigantic enlargement of the sort of horse journeymen painters used to knock up for a couple of sovereigns apiece for proud owners of the Great Ebor Handicap or the Beverley Selling Plate. Its overlong back and swan neck perpetuated horses of an antique world.</blockquote>

It's very important, that question he asks himself in the middle of the first passage. He's telling the story (to himself only, one presumes) many years later.


A necessarily slight book at less than a hundred pages (I think it was right to make it purely about his 'month' with little of what happened before or after) it's still a well-written book. I'm not happy with his Yorkshire dialogue, something that, in literature, only David Peace has ever gotten right.


And I'm not happy with Penguin, who published my edition under their pale grey Penguin Classics imprint. The introduction (nicely done by Penelope Fitzgerald) gives away far too much, and I'm glad I stuck to my rule of only reading an introduction after I have read the book. Apart from those minor points, I can't fault it.

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I thought I'd posted about this before, but having looked back it was as one half of a pair of titles in the Literary Mergers quiz. It took forever, and loads of clues before anyone got it :rolleyes:

I enjoyed A Month In The Country and have read it two or three times The first JL Carr I ever read, A Day In Summer, I have also read several times, and I think that's the one I prefer. I just love the slow, detailed, thoughtfulness of his writing.

Quite a few of his other titles are on my Wishlist, but for some strange reason they are not books that one just comes across.

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Slight and subtle as a Wordswoth poem, A Month in the Country is all over almost before you've got into it - a mere 80 pages, but what a revelation! It has the feeling of a life lived and reflected on with both sadness and hope.


In The Last Englishman: The Life of JL Carr, Byron Rogers quotes Carr's letter to a friend: 'Purely for your interest, almost everything concerning the Ellerbecks [a devout family in the novel] is true; the visit to the dying girl, the Sunday meal, the preaching, even the organ burying. We, the Carrs were the Ellerbecks.'

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  • 2 years later...

I was lucky enough to read a beautiful Folio edition of this book, and the illustrations supported the text wonderfully.


I was really taken with the story, perhaps because I grew up in a small village and recongnised many of the facets of village life. The descriptions of the English summer had me wallowing in nostalgia!


I thought the one of the "revelations" at towards the end of the book had a certain resonance with today, which rather took me by surprise.

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Carr is one of my favourite writers, and A Month in the Country one of my favourites of his books. Another is The Harpole Report, a comic epistolary style novel of school life - one of the very few genuinely funny books I've ever read.


The reason Megustaleer struggles to come across his books, is that they are all now published by The Quince Tree Press, Carr's own publishing 'company', now run by his sun. But they are definitely worth hunting out - idiosyncratic and full of life. Byron Rogers's life of JL Carr (The Last Englishman - a title more recently adopted for an Arthur Ransome biography) explains much I wanted to know about him, and was a thoroughly enjoyable read - definitely one of the best biogs I've read.


(BTW I agree about the Folio edition of A Month In The Country too).

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I too own the Folio edition of this wonderful book.


I had never heard of either the book or the author when it appeared on one of their yearly publication lists but somehow it spoke to me and I bought it.


Sometimes we read a book that leaves an imprint on our 'souls', embeds itself inside us. Lays down roots and starts to grow. This is one of those books. Rich in language, powerful in its story telling. I could continue to 'gush' but like the book I will contain myself.


I also had the good fortune about five years ago to see a dramatised production of the book at a local venue. A small cast magically brought this tale to life upon the stage. Unfortunately for the moment I cannot remember any details of the script writer or any of the cast.

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  • 1 month later...

I found the programme for the stage adaptation of this book.


It was adapted for the stage by the North Country Theatre and directed by Nobby Dimon. No mention of who did the writing of the adaptation so assume was a joint affair. But it was a rewarding and faithful production that captured the true feel of the book.

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  • 3 years later...

I keep meaning to read this and was reminded again by 'A Good Read' on Radio4 yesterday when the crime writer Peter Robinson chose it. 


ETA: Certainly a very 'good read'.  No high-flown prose but the book somehow 'sings'  without being pretentious.   A time and a place is captured so well.  There was a film version but it appears no DVD available at present.

Edited by chuntzy
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  • 7 years later...

Like drinking a pint of ale on a warm summer's day overlooking a still river.

This was charming. A novella, a short story, about a London man in 1920 going oop north to Yorkshire to do some work uncovering a white washed mural in a church. Over the course of the month he meets a selection of the locals and falls in love with one of them without ever revealing his feelings to her (she being married to an older man). Then there's his friend Moon who, in a nearby field, has been commissioned to search for a lost grave. These two men often sit in the grass drinking, smoking pipes, putting the world to rights, discussing their experiences of the war.

The whole book has a warm feeling to it, a nostalgia for an England that no longer exists, but there's also a modern feel to it, most notably in the way Carr describes sex as well as Moon's homosexuality. There's a great deal of wit in the book and it's a slow, languorous, and gentle stroll through the summer countryside and a month that will live with the protagonist forever.

The book is mostly light-weight, nothing too strenuous, but charming and profound. Apparently there's a 1988 film with Colin Firth and Kenneth Brannagh (news to me).


"If I'd stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older die, and the bright belief that there will always be another marvelous thing around each corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies."



Edited by hux
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1 hour ago, Madeleine said:

I think the film might be Another Country, which they were both in, and sounds right timewise, based on the Alan Bennett play.

No Another Country is about the Cambridge spy Guy Burgess.


There was a film made of A Month in The Country, but it is no surprise that it was news to Hux, as according to Wikipedia 



The film has been neglected since its 1987 cinema release and it was only in 2004 that an original 35 mm film print was discovered, due to the intervention of a fan....

... In June 2016, the BFI released the film on a (Dual Format Edition) Blu-ray and DVD in the UK.[26]


There is a half hour video called Colin Firth's Disappeared Film, A Work Of Art, Saved And Restored After 30 Years,  available on YouTube, of Colin Firth talking about the restoration.


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