A Month In The Country
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A Month In The Country

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  1,988 ratings  ·  342 reviews
A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the 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 that idyl...more
Paperback, 111 pages
Published January 31st 1980 by Penguin in association with The Harvester Press (first published 1980)
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Jeffrey Keeten
"But then, inevitably, as happens to most of us, first through Saturday umpiring, later Sunday chapel, I was drawn into the changing picture of Oxgodby itself. But, oddly, what happened outside was like a dream. It was inside the still church, before its reappearing picture, that was real. I drifted across the rest. As I have said--like a dream. For a time."

Tom Birken is summoned to the countryside from the teaming streets of London to practice his craft revealing a Medieval painting that was or...more


There is an art in trying to uncover what time hides. And the uncovering itself is also a process of multiple restorations, of bringing back to life, of claiming back from the past what could be foregone: beauty, suffering, happiness, fear, life, death, and hope. They all function in cycles, with troughs and climaxes. One goes and the other one arrives.

Images can be projected and recollections can be written.

A calendar of memory can be read like a book. Nature in its periodic seasons reanimat...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 4.75* of five

The Publisher Says: In J. L. Carr's deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter's depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a...more
This is the sort of efficient novella that demands a short, incisive review full of judiciously-chosen adjectives, and presumably that's what it will get if MJ ever gets around to reading it. In my case, however, it's unfortunately one of those texts that is going to send me off on a long personal anecdote, for which I offer advance apologies.

When I was twenty-one I ended up, for a variety of reasons, living in Quito, Ecuador. The city in those days was a steamy melting-pot of different national...more
This is Carr’s masterpiece, short and relatively unheralded as it is. It did win the Guardian prize, and was short-listed for the Booker; and in 1987 was made into a motion picture. This was the height of Carr’s fame and recognition. According to Michael Holroyd’s introduction to the NYRB Classics edition, this wouldn’t have affected Carr one way or the other; he was in Holroyd’s words “an outsider, a man of integrity, who wrote from his sense of privacy.”

In Carr’s forward, he tells us
my idea w
This will likely enter the list of my all-time favorite books. I found myself saying "glorious" several times and then stopping to thank my parents for instilling in me their love of reading. That brought me so belatedly to this treasure of a book.

I know that the basic story is well known, the young re-patriated soldier, spending a month in the English countryside at a small chapel, tasked to uncover a centuries old mural. But the tale is so much more than that because the prose is so much more...more
I intend to read some novels that are first World War based for this year’s anniversary and this one is the first. It is a novella by a rather eccentric teacher turned writer which absolutely captures a time and place. The plot is straightforward. Tom Birkin is a WW1 veteran who was injured at Paschendaele and is troubled by his memories and dreams and by a failed marraige. It is the summer of 1920 and Birkn has taken a job in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby. He is to uncover a medieval...more
Apr 02, 2012 Mikki rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mikki by: Novella Group April Pick
Shelves: novellas, nyrb, britian
res-to-ra-tion, noun
1. The act of restoring; renewal, revival, or reestablishment
2. a return of something to a former, original , normal, or unimpaired condition

Tom Birkin is a man looking back -- reflecting on a single summer in his youth after just returning from war, with spirits dulled, and mind and emotions still covered in battlefield residue.

Hired to restore a recently discovered 14th century church mural in rural Yorkshire, Birkin looks forward to a fresh start with no worries and just...more
Coming to this book by way of Jacob (again!) is yet another Easter Egg in the sea of literature. Excellent writing, superb characterizations and amazing dialogue - I fully understand why this novel was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980.

Carr is the representative author of Vonnegut's quote: "Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak." (from Palm Sunday) - great books don't necessarily have to be written by MFA grads and life-long students of the craft. Carr didn't publ...more
The descriptions in 'A Month in the Country' do not draw particular attention to ambient sounds or noise (it is in any case a consistently subtle book in which everything occurs with a minimum of fuss), but I suspect that one of the major comforts of Tom Birkin's time in Oxgodby, and one of the reasons he is content for the work of restoration to take longer than he had intended, is that the rich, enveloping quite of the church - birdsong outside; the rhythmic tapping of his tools; the barely di...more
Moira Russell
Links -

Film version on UTU

Suite by Howard Blake, adapted from his score for the film

Detailed site by fan who helped rescue the film

Review by Ingrid Norton

BBC Radio 4 adaptation

Not sure about all you faux amis who highly recommended this to me, it is FUCKING HEARTBREAKING. And beautiful and polished -- but God, so sad, I teared up multiple times. All the critics (i.e. Holroyd, what a completely thick Introduction) prating about resurrection and happiness and idylls baffle me -- it's the deliberat...more
Why is that a book I've read twice and would happily read again doesn't get that fifth star from me? After reading it the first time (pre-GR), I sent a copy to a friend, knowing it was the type of book we both loved -- and yes, she loved it too. But when it subsequently popped up on GR, I rated it 4 stars based on a gut feeling. Much later I started seeing simpatico GR friends rate it 5 stars and I thought perhaps I was "wrong."

Forget my above musings about the vagaries of GR stars, during my r...more
i have bought this book four times. and given it away four times. i lovelovelove it. i just can't seem to keep it in my hot little paws.
Everyone I have ever loved, ever cared for, ever hated, is in this slip of a book.
It hardly seems possible this was first written in 1978. It has the feel of a much older book, for Carr has entered the past and settled in there as though it were his. This belongs to that class of novels that wear their truths lightly: nearly every page describes a look, a feeling, a moment that we recognize no matter that the characters precede us by one hundred years.

Shortly after WWI, a returned soldier comes to an old church in the north of England with the intention of uncovering a mural...more
I won't be able to review this book properly. (That's the way it is when I really love something, I find it impossible to put my feelings into words.)The first-person narrative accomplished a lot so simply - I felt close to Birkin immediately, and it conveyed background (and futureground) information in a natural yet instant form - I don't always feel comfortable in the protagonist's head, but I liked it with Birkin. Yeah, I can't say enough, this book is absolutely stuffed with beautiful things...more

A book I likely would not have discovered if not for Goodreads. A couple things I appreciated.

Word choice and turn of phrase - So many readers have commented on this book with a sense of wistfulness and I credit this to word choice.

"The long end of summer. Day after day of warm weather, voices calling as night came on and lighted windows pricked the darkness and, at day-break, the murmer of corn and the warm smell of fields ripe for harvest."

Humor and grace - I actually laughed...more
Levi Stahl informed me of this novel's existence. Apparently it is a favorite of his. I can see why. I recall reading his thoughts on such and discovering that the book was availible at the library and that the library was closing in less than 20 minutes. i drove like mad and made it. I read the novel that evening. It is a testament to grace. That isn't eternal as such, but the perception thereof can be.
I love this quiet story about discovery, recovery, history and healing. I love the gentle intertwining of faith and art. Also, I have rarely wanted to spend a month up a ladder on my back in an un-ventilated country church (ok, that's not true ; I frequently want to spend a month exactly like that) ... but this novel made me crave the austerity and innovation required by just that sort of experience.
Beautiful, lyrical, quietly vivid.

Tom Birkin, like so many of his fellow countrymen, is a broken man after the Great War. He travels north, to Oxgodby, to accept a commission to uncover and restore a painting in the church’s chancel. His plan is to make a great discovery, in this medieval church, and establish himself in his profession. What happens to Tom Birkin is something beyond what he expected. He undergoes a transformation of sorts, as he makes a connection to the past. As he uncovers mor...more
I haven't been reading much lately.
In fact, I can't even remember the last six months, so I had a clean palate when I went to devour this slim book.
I received it as an xmas gift from my nephew; I was dubious because it was fiction, but since my nephew is hella smarter than I am, I decided to give it a shot.
A Month in the Country is as spectacular as it is sparse.
The story emerges from a thin fog, nearly comes into focus and then dissipates.
A prose body obfuscating a poetic soul, the literary...more
Ben Loory
if this book isn't perfect i don't know what perfect is.

and god bless NYRB.

We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever-- the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.
Oh my God -- this is just amazingly beautiful; so perfect, so exquisite! A wounded war vet accepts a commission to restore a long-forgotten mural on a church wall in a tiny English village. The nuance and small moments that make up this gorgeous little novella are breathtaking, and the quiet, spare story will completely invade you. Brilliant!
Horrible read, very disappointing. Paragraphs of meandering bollocks ! I wanted to tear my hair out while reading some of them, wondering what the fuck this guy was going on about ?!?!? Alternating between being bored and frustrated is not my idea of a good read.
Jim Coughenour
Tony's review reminded me of the Sunday afternoon over 20 years ago when I first read this book - one of those rare moments when you're suddenly aware that you have succumbed completely to the magic of a story, its characters, its setting. A Month in the Country is a perfect miniature, quintessentially English in its beauty, restraint and regret. Listen to Charles Stanford's "The Blue Bird" as performed by the Cambridge Singers; it's that kind of pastoral.
A quiet little masterpiece. This book seems so perfectly conceived and executed that single word added or subtracted might spoil its crystalline purity.
The story is told as the memoir of Tom Birkin, a scarred and shell shocked survivor of the Great War, of the summer when he spends a month staying in the bell tower of the church in Oxgodby while he works on uncovering a medieval wall painting there. It is a chronicle of the work he does and the characters he meets as he gradually becomes absorbed into the life of the village.

A Month in the Country is quietly brilliant but it is one of those books that is very difficult to catch in the act of be...more
A gorgeous eulogy for the perfect Summer

Birkin, a damaged World War One veteran, is employed to a find and restore a mural in a village church, whilst another veteran is employed to look for a grave beyond the churchyard walls. The writer looks back 58 years later, and as an old man, on his idyllic Summer of 1920. The bitter-sweet happiness the writer describes feels fragile and ephemeral which makes the story all the more beautiful, powerful and haunting. This short book packs so much in: love,...more
Perhaps I don't have to write a long review, saying how I've known about this book forever and had known for the last few years it was going to be a favourite when I did finally read it. My own "month in the country" and how I decided not to read it then because it's a story about remembering.

Simply, I would love to live this whole book.
From the point when he arrives at the station I mean, so not the background; I don't really need to have been in a war on top of everything else. Being suffused...more
'A Month in the Country' is a rich and uplifting novella set in the English countryside. It tells the tale of Tom Birkin, a traumatised WWI survivor, uncovering a mural in a church in rural Yorkshire. He takes on the job as he knows it will be a perfect escape from London, his troubled past and unfaithful wife. In its 84 pages, 'A Month in the Country' covers religion, war, love, death, art, loss of faith and friendship - these topics are subtly woven together in Carr's rich English, which paint...more
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Carr was born in Thirsk Junction, Carlton Miniott, Yorkshire, into a Wesleyan Methodist family. His father Joseph, the eleventh son of a farmer, went to work for the railways, eventually becoming a station master for the North Eastern Railway. Carr was given the same Christian name as his father and the middle name Lloyd, after David Lloyd George, the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer. He adopte...more
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“And, at such a time, for a few of us there will always be a tugging at the heart—knowing a precious moment had gone and we not there. We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever—the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on belfry floor, a remembered voice, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass. ” 56 likes
“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 be another marvelous thing around each corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.” 22 likes
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