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A Country Road, A Tree

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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,168 ratings  ·  259 reviews
From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a stunning new novel that follows an unnamed writer--Samuel Beckett--whose life and extraordinary literary gift are permanently shaped in the forge of war.

When war breaks out in Europe in 1939, a young, unknown writer journeys from his home in neutral Ireland to conflict-ridden Paris and is drawn into the maelstrom. With him we ex
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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 17th 2016 by Knopf (first published May 10th 2016)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,168 ratings  ·  259 reviews


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Susan
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Having enjoyed Jo Baker’s previous work, I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review her latest novel – “A Country Road, A Tree.” This is based upon the life of author Samuel Beckett and centres on his time in wartime Paris and his relationship with his lover, Suzanne. Samuel is at home, in Ireland, when war is declared and the author really does recreate that moment of shock very well. Beckett’s mother fleetingly trying to keep her family together, even as the younger members are a ...more
Bill
I really enjoy historical fiction novels where the main character is a real life author. I just finished recently Sophie and the Sybil which featured George Eliot, and now this one about Samuel Beckett.

I didn't really know much about Beckett's history so didn't know that he spent the entire war in France when he could have been safe back in Ireland, or that he was involved in the French resistance. The whole book takes place during the Second World War and mainly involves Beckett and his girlfri
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Chrissie
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I REALLY enjoyed this. This is how I want historical fiction to be written, and the writing style fits me to a tee. I adore the prose style.

Describing different writing styles is very difficult. The writing here is not flowery nor elaborate. It catches the atmosphere of a place, emotions and events with a minimum of words. The result is clean and strong, efficient, moving, deep and philosophical all at the same time. I loved the writing from the minute I picked the book up to the very end.

I wro
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Patrick
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Really enjoyed Jo Bakers interpretation of Becketts experiences in France during WW2.The author feels that these experiences informed his subsequent works.Hmmm.undoubtedly but not exclusively.The exchanges with Joyce are interesting.Plot wise,like Godot,not a whole lot happens but the writing and depth of characterisation are very strong.Personally enjoyed the Dublin chapters.The novel is loaded with literary references to Becketts works.This is fundamentally a love story with an historical back ...more
Jess
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Beckett fans
I discovered this through an online course run by the University of Edinburgh which discussed the fundamental elements of novels that we as readers often take for granted. It seemed fitting to centre the 'case studies' around the nominees for the university's James Tait Black Prize. Enter A Country Road, A Tree.

The problem for me is that the story itself is never contextualised. The novel follows an unnamed writer with no specific insights into what it is he's actually writing - I'm not giving
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Lyn Elliott
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, france, war, 2017-best
Here we are in mid-January and I've already filed this in my 2017-best books shelf.
Based on Samuel Beckett's experiences in wartime France, It is beautifully written and the dramatic tension so skillfully maintained that I was compelled to read it right through in a couple of days when I should have been doing other things.
I hadn't heard of the author until I read a gr friend's review and thought I'd like to read it. Thank you Barbara!
Barbara
Aug 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A gorgeous book, splendid prose, and one I didn't want to put down. This novel tells the story of the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, trapped in France during World War II. As the novel opens in 1939, James Joyce is still alive and living in Paris. Joyce obstinately refuses to acknowledge the war and acts as blind to it as he is in real life. Beckett worked for Joyce for a time as secretary and translator. Imagine trying to translate Ulysses or Finegan's Wake. Yet the windows of Sweney's Pharmacy ...more
Kailey
Sep 01, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks
The writing style is far too minimal for my tastes. The author is clearly intelligent and can write well, but I felt I was reading, not for enjoyment, but purely to finish.
Linda
Aug 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
“There’s a wide verge, which rises to become a bank, and at the top of the bank a fence runs; the tree forms part of this fence, like a post that’s taken root and grown. Bleached roots claw down into the earth; above, the trunk is slender, and two slim boughs stretch up to form a Y. A few blunt twigs, a handful of leaves. It is by no means impressive, but it is distinctive. It is the kind of tree of which to make a landmark. Of which one might readily say, You can’t miss it….
“ He said to wait by
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Mark Myers
Mar 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
He picks up the book. He read the summary. He notices a trend but liked other recent World War II novels so he checks it out anyway. He starts reading. It annoys him. He doesn't like present tense writing. It feels so cliche. This one is particularly bad because every sentence. Is. Choppy. He reads on. No characters matter. Paris is overrun and it somehow seems insignificant. He would have to care more about the plot to notice that one is not developing. James Joyce. The light is so dim he can s ...more
J.S. Dunn
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ireland
4.0
A second biopic/historical for the month; this one somewhat less enjoyable but only for the self-conscious and occasionally verbose style. Wartime France seen through the eyes of Samuel Beckett, though he isn't named as such. In fact, this work is notable for not name-dropping ---in contrast to much recent, commercialized HF about 'celebrities' in various eras. Here one is gradually immersed so that Beckett's life unfolds naturally before the reader rather than smacking the reader.

His self-do
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Melissa
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
At first I just thought, "Well this isn't like Longbourn at all…", and then I completely devoured this novel. The writing is spectacularly engrossing, thought provoking, and there's a naked quality to it. A realness to the flawed protagonist, an unknown Irish writer, trying to make his mark in the literary world prior to Germany’s occupation in France. A man who is trying to be “of use”, joining the French resistance, placing his life (on which he places no value)- as well as his lover’s life - ...more
Lynn
Jun 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Rather disappointing after Longbourn. Yet another WWII story but with a different slant to it, I kind of guessed half way through, that the hero? of the story was going to turn out to be someone famous, as he never gets a named. I will not name this person as it is not on the blurb, but a knowledge of his work may have given more meaning to this story, unfortunately I didn't so much of it was rather lost on me and I found it too meandering and although the horrors of war were touched upon, it wa ...more
James Murphy
May 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fictionalized account of Samuel Beckett's wartime experience in France during the period 1939-1945. The fact that he was a member of the Resistance and that he and his companion Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumnesil were forced to flee Paris in a harrowing journey that took them to Rousillon in Provence where they lived out the remaining 3 years of the war are matters of biographical fact. Not everyone knows it, however. It's important because I don't remember the protagonist of Baker's novel be ...more
John
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think it would be difficult to find two runaway successes by the same author that were so different. Yet both are wonderful books.
A Country Road, A Tree tells the story of an unnamed Irishman and his life in France during WW2. Although unnamed, it is recognised that the subject is Samuel Becket.
Jo Baker has chosen to write the entire book in the present tense, and in the 2nd Person point of view. This gives the narrative a great sense of immediacy. In her own words, it is "in the moment".
From
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Cold War Conversations Podcast
Vibrant imagining of Samuel Beckett’s life in France during World War 2

Jo Baker has created a vivid and poetic fictional account of Beckett’s life in Paris and on the run from the Gestapo in France during World War 2. The story revolves around Beckett’s relationship with his girlfriend Suzanne and attempts to explain the complexity of the man and how his World War 2 experiences affected his later works.

The style takes a little getting used to, however after a slow start the book becomes addictiv
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Penny Margaret
Jul 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
Couldn't get past the man-boy main character.
Psalm
Jun 25, 2016 rated it did not like it
Solid writing but too aimless to keep my interest. Quit early on.
Donia
Jul 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
Dry bare clipped austere writing. The leaves fell. The cat walked. The river flowed. Not my style.
Cathy
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. A Country Road, A Tree is one of the books shortlisted for the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.

The book follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist. However, he is easily identified as Samuel Beckett from the references to him as the author of Murphy, his friendship with James Joyce and his childhood home in Ireland, Cooldrinagh. As well as James Joyce and his wife Nora, the book has walk-on parts for other cultural figures of the period such as Marcel Duchamp. F
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Roman Clodia
Jun 11, 2016 rated it liked it
This is an elliptical literary novel that explores Samuel Beckett 's life in France during the Second World War and his emergence as one of the great Modernist writers. It's a quiet book in lots of ways with events happening in the background but silences and spaces (as in Beckett 's own works) are important.

Beckett isn't mentioned by name, though his companion, and later wife, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil is, as are James and Nora Joyce. His work with the Resistance is also here but again don't e
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Julie
Apr 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, own, vine
Prior to reading this, my only familiarity with Samuel Beckett was reading Waiting for Godot in a college theater class. Little did I know that as a young man he participated in the French Resistance during WWII. This novel portrays his activities during this time, first in Paris, then in the French countryside. The tension of almost being caught by the Gestapo is a constant presence. There is a scene in which he is hiding which seemed like a scene from the aforementioned play. Beckett’s quiet d ...more
Joanne
Oct 01, 2016 rated it liked it
The premise of this book was so promising that I was quite disappointed to find the narrative bored me. The author never made the characters come alive enough to interest me. Beckett and Suzanne were so wooden, so barely sketched out, that they had no hold on my imagination at all. I persevered in finishing it, but only because I find Samuel Beckett an interesting historical figure and have read some of his works.
I couldn't stop myself from comparing parts of this supposedly true story with the
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Kim
"This is what the world is liable to do nowadays - collapse in ruins - and people go on behaving as though it were nothing very much at all"

Yes, this is a book about Samuel Beckett, but it is much more than that. This is a book about war, about refugees, about how ordinary people struggle, are damaged, eek out ways to survive in the face of horrendous political events foisted upon them. That makes this book very timely. The war in Syria, the rise of the racist Right in Europe and the USA, these
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Donna
Sep 10, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is WWII historical fiction. I enjoyed the writing. There were times I would be saying out loud, "Nice." Some of this was really quite beautiful. But the writing alone wasn't enough to pull me in. The characters seemed distant so I wasn't pulled in like I would have liked. But I liked that this didn't have a glossy ending. It felt like there was a certain symmetry with that. So 3 stars.
Kate
Elegant novel about Samuel Beckett's experiences in Paris and France during the Second World War, but not for me. A reminder of why I rarely enjoy literary fiction. 2.5 stars.
Tristy
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a book of logistics with no feeling. We take a lot of trains, we find places to stay in the midst of terror and war, but we never hear how anyone is actually feeling about it all.
Cathy
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book painted a bleak and futile inner landscape, eased only when he took up a pen, a stub of pencil, anything to release the words building like steam in a cooker. The outer landscape was defined by Paris, then rural France, with beginnings in Ireland, his place of birth in which his mother waited. Paris held his attention, his love, his pressure release valve. Ireland drained and depleted him, blocked the word flow, so he left behind his past, lived in Paris. War came and with it occupatio ...more
Mandy
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Whether I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't known it was about Samuel Beckett and if I hadn’t already been pretty familiar with his life and work it’s impossible to say. He's actually never named in the book so the reader needs a bit of knowledge to work it out, but certainly I found it a convincing and intriguing portrait of Beckett as man and writer – and what a lot poor old Suzanne, his companion, had to put up with. The ...more
Anita
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book starts very slowly. The author writes in an unusual style; in Present tense centered around the thoughts of the writer, Beckett; which requires an adjustment from the reader. After a while, I found that I had become accustomed to the rhythm, become totally immersed and viewed the world through the eyes of the man himself. The narrative covers six years in Beckett's life, when he remained in France during the Occupation with his lover, Suzanne. Having read this book, I have gained a bet ...more
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Jo Baker is the author of six novels, most recently Longbourn and A Country Road, A Tree. She has also written for BBC Radio 4, and her short stories have been included in a number of anthologies. She lives in Lancaster, England, with her husband, the playwright and screenwriter Daragh Carville, and their two children.
“He stares now at the three words he has written.They are ridiculous. Writing is ridiculous. A sentence, any sentence, is absurd. Just the idea of it; jam one word up against another, shoulder-to-shoulder, jaw-to-jaw; hem them in with punctuation so they can't move an inch. And then hand that over to someone else to peer at, and expect something to be communicated, something understood. It's not just pointless. It is ethically suspect.” 1 likes
“And when he surfaces to a cramped hand, a crick in the neck, the sunlight shifted across the floor, a sore blink, he knows that even to have written this little is an excess, it is an overflowing, an excretion. Too many words. There are just too many words. Nobody wants them; nobody needs them. And still they keep on, keep on, keep on coming..” 0 likes
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