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A Month In The Country

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  9,367 ratings  ·  1,384 reviews
"Penguin Decades" bring you the novels that helped shape modern Britain. When they were published, some were bestsellers, some were considered scandalous, and others were simply misunderstood. All represent their time and helped define their generation, while today each is considered a landmark work of storytelling. J.L. Carr's "A Month in the Country" was first published ...more
Paperback, 92 pages
Published September 30th 2014 by Viking (first published 1980)
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Popular Answered Questions
Caryatid As a medievalist, I felt I had to answer this question!
All the Middle English quotes in A Month in the Country come from John Mirk’s Instructions fo…more
As a medievalist, I felt I had to answer this question!
All the Middle English quotes in A Month in the Country come from John Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests. Mirk was a canon regular at Lilleshall Priory in Shropshire. (A "canon regular" is a kind of monk. They had to follow a "rule" (Latin "regula"), that is, the modes of life mandated by their monastic order.)
Mirk wrote the Instructions in the early 15th century. (less)
Mark Vinny is the narrator's (offscreen) wife. His fraught relationship with her seems to account for his sidelong mentions of her by name.…moreVinny is the narrator's (offscreen) wife. His fraught relationship with her seems to account for his sidelong mentions of her by name.(less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, book-to-film
"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
Vit Babenco
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What does it take to be happy? First of all it takes tranquility. And so often the happiest days of our life are those when nothing crucial happened.
So a month in the country was a real treat to the protagonist and A Month in the Country is a real treat to a reader…
Well, we all see things with different eyes, and it gets you nowhere hoping that even one in a thousand will see things your way.

The novel is also a deepest contemplation on the nature of art and history and the harmony of life…
We can
...more
Cecily
Mar 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cecily by: Sarah
Tom Birkin is hired to reveal and restore a Medieval church mural, covered up over four-hundred years earlier. Expertly peeling back the layers of lime and grime, what he finds on the walls is unexpected in subject and quality. What he learns about people, especially himself, is unexpected too: the process of restoration is personally restorative.

Don’t let the bland cover or blurb lead you to think this is just the charming story of the healing effect of a bucolic month in a quiet village. It i
...more
Brina
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: man-booker, novella
I am a seasonal reader, often craving books with sizzling settings in the summer months and snowy locales in the winter. Last week I saw a review for J. L. Carr's Man Booker winning A Month in the Country and was intrigued enough by the title to read it for myself. Using stunning prose combined with well developed characters, Carr's novella is perfect for a leisurely summer morning.

Tom Birkin had survived the Great War yet returned alienated from civilian life. While in present times his feelin
...more
Fionnuala
Jul 12, 2014 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Fionnuala by: A host of gr friends
Shelves: art-related, war
When we pick up a book by an author we haven’t read before, we have only the vaguest notion of what themes it will contain. We don't know how those themes will be treated, what attention to detail we will find or if the language will delight us or otherwise. Before we turn over that first page, it is all as blank as a whitewashed wall. We may bring expectations to the blank piece of wall, expectations based on the period the book is set in or from the opinions of readers we trust, but any clarit ...more
Annet
'You're happy, Mr Birkin. You're not on edge any more. Is it because the work is going well? Of course, she was right. Anyway, partly right. Standing up there on the platform before a great work of art, feeling kinship with its creator, cosily knowing that I was sort of impresario conjuring and teasing back his work after four hundred years of darkness. But that wasn't all of it. There was this weather, this landscape, thick woods, roadsides deep in grass and wild flowers. And to the south and n ...more
Dolors
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Do you believe happiness is overrated?
Recommended to Dolors by: A bunch of GR friends
Shelves: read-in-2015
“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.”

Do we recognize happiness when we live it?
Or is it a condition we only perceive in retrospection remembering the past through the rose-tinted glasses of memory?

Wales, 1978. Thomas Birkin, a survivor of the Great War, travels back in time t
...more
Sue
Feb 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: Everyone
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
Warwick
Feb 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Robin
Can you remember a time in your life when you were truly happy?

If I search my memories, I find a sixteen year old girl sitting in a canoe, with a boy, fishing at two o'clock in the morning by the eerie light of the midnight sun, on a glassy lake near Whitehorse, Yukon. Everything is tingly and pulsing with youth. I look a little more and see myself choking back tears on a hospital bed with my beloved grandfather, hearing him say "I'm still your grandpa, Robin", knowing I would never see him aga
...more
Adina
A Month In The Country was my second choice for the The Mookse and the Gripes group revisit of the 1980 Booker shortlist. I selected this novel for two reasons: its brevity and the positive reviews it received from some of my friends. I admit that the subject was not of interest to me, life in the country does not feel too enticing. What can I say, I am a city girl. I love nature but for short periods of time. Actually, three stars is the highest rating I gave to a novel about country life. For ...more
Kalliope
Oct 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition


(*)


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
Paul
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-novels
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 Passchendaele and is troubled by his memories and dreams and by a failed marriage. It is the summer of 1920 and Birkin has taken a job in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby. He is to uncover a medieva ...more
Katie
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. This wasn’t what I expected, especially initially. I thought it was written in the 1920s and would be an understated tastefully written meditation on the healing powers of art. Instead the narrator is a bantering almost Jack-the laddish character who refers to his backside as his bum and imagines the vicar and his wife having sex. I was a bit shocked until I saw it was written in 1980.

Half way through I was wondering what all the fuss is about. It was confusing me. The narrator is a
...more
Ted
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
...more
Richard Derus
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Hugh
When The Mookse and the Gripes group decided to revisit the 1980 Booker shortlist, this was the book I most looked forward to reading, and it did not disappoint, except that it was over too soon.

The narrator is Tom Birkin, who is looking back after many years to his first summer of work after returning from the Great War. He arrives in Oxgodby, a small village in Yorkshire, because a bequest to the local church has stipulated that a medieval wall painting should be uncovered and he has accepted
...more
Barbara
May 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours forever."

Sometimes peace of mind and tranquility take a lifetime to achieve. For Tom Birkin that serenity only took one summer month, one month in the idyllic English village of Oxgodby. The memories of that summer month, those quiet moments surrounded by nature and art, were enough to renew Birkin forever.

Tom has just returned to England after a horrific experience as a soldier in WWI. He is a broken man; a man with a facial tic
...more
Perry
Happiness of Halcyon Days Haunts Me; I Wait for Pain to Pass

"Now for a breath I tarry,
Nor yet disperse apart--
Take my hand quick and tell me,
What have you in your heart.
"
A.E. Housman, quoted in epigraph to A Month in the Country

An extraordinary, heart-rending novel, written as a sort of twilight benediction to a pastoral place and its people.

Never has such a short novel impacted me so profoundly, dramatically, making me reflect on a few golden days in my past, my own in which I can close my eye
...more
Margitte
I am not going to write an elaborate review for this book. It is just one of those books that crosses one's path and changes everything inside the reader. There's soul-food in the story, positive vibes, a gentle sense of humor, and a hope being bourne from the protagonist's thoughts and heart.

When the protagonist is tasked to restore a 500-year-old painting which have been white-washed over a hundred years after it was painted, he leaves behind a shattered life in London. He survived WWI but his
...more
Jr Bacdayan
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Life is filled with moments. Moments of cowardice, of hesitation, moments when our courage fail us: to make a small step, to take a big leap, to dance, or move our lips a few inches to those of another. Repetitive moments of daily toil: eating, fixing the bed, performing our trade, defecating. Moments of idleness when we do nothing but lie down and embody the emptiness within us. These moments are not remembered, are forgotten, or glossed over with untruth. These moments fill out what is left af ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019

According to Dr. Johnson's 'Dictionary , a novel is a small tale, generally of love.

Mr. Carr is modest in choosing this quote as epigraph for his novel. There nothing small about this story, despite the relatively thin size of the tome. I have noticed before, that a lot of my favorite novels do not need a thousand pages, or world shattering conflicts to get to the point. "A Month In the Country" is just further confirmation of my theory that in art size doesn't matter. What matters is the rich
...more
Julie
If the author of this book had more appropriately named this Elegy of a Broken Man rather than A Month in the Country, I think my preconceptions and attitudes would have met him in that proper space rather than taken a continuous nose dive into confusion.

I could never make out what this book wanted to be, when it grew up. It was sometimes boring and disorganized, and also sometimes inspired and filled with big, important “thinks.” I thought, quite mistakenly, that it was a summer-inspired travel
...more
Roger Brunyate
The Summer After the War

[NOTE: I have recently reviewed Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent. In the appendix to the British paperback edition, she lists a number of novels as being especially important to her: I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith), A Month in the Country (J. L. Carr), Jane Eyre, Tess of the Durbervilles, and A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Most of them I have read, but I knew the first two only by reputation. Perry has inspired me to remedy that omission.]

Although brief and char
...more
Fiona MacDonald
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
I have never read anything quite like this before. It was such a simple book, a simple story, yet so intrinsically beautiful that it almost moved me to tears. The story of a young man, bruised and emotionally battered from WW1 finding his way in the small village of Oxgodby is something to treasure. The people he meets, the things he sees and the lasting memories of one single month are just breath-taking. It feels completely immoral to actually rate this title, but I will give it the highest po ...more
Tras
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
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.

An England that no longer exists - the dying embers of the horse age, Europe devastated by the First World War, and the annihilation of several generations of men.

In a small Yorkshire church, a medieval mural has been discovered und
...more
Nigeyb
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A gorgeous eulogy for the perfect Summer

Birkin, a damaged World War One veteran, is employed to 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, l
...more
Declan
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb
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
Laysee
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laysee by: Fionnuala
Shelves: five-star-books
Summer 1920. Tom Birkin, a penurious Londoner in his early twenties, battered by war and a failed marriage, sought a fresh start for himself in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby. He was excited by the prospect of uncovering and restoring a recently discovered medieval wall-painting in the village church. At less than 120 pages, A Month In The Country is a beautiful novella of restoration and healing.

I was enchanted by the opening pages that showed Birkin arriving on a rainy evening, grudg
...more
Paul Secor
Other reviews here have told the story of Tom Birkin and his narration of the months he spent in Oxgodby recovering from his experiences in the Great War and the breakup of his marriage. I'll just say that I very much liked the generous quality of his narration and his gratitude for the time he spent with the people of Oxgodby.
Tom Birkin has one great regret from the time he spent there. I imagine that all of us have at least one great regret from some time in our lives. A Month in the Country
...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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