Monday, June 20, 2016

The perfect summer read

I picked up J.L Carr's slender 1980 reverie A Month in the Country on a whim at the library book sale. It is a perfect gem of a story, one of the most lovely and poignant novels I have read. It counts as a summer read only in the sense that summer–in this case summer in 1920 in a small Yorkshire village–is a principal character to rival the protagonist and narrator, Tom Birkin.

Newly returned to England from the Great War, Birkin has been hired to uncover and clean an old mural in Oxgodby's parish church. The parallel restoration of the hidden medieval masterpiece and of Birkin's damaged soul is hardly a subtle device, but the writing is so heartfelt, the characters so carefully and vividly drawn, the description of the countryside and the livelihoods of its inhabitants so poetic, the humor so sharp but good-spirited– one wishes to linger far longer in Oxgodby than Carr's economical 135 pages allow. Summer ends, and like Birkin, we must move on– moved.

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