Published 1980 by Harvester Press
Source: ebook all mine
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 new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.
So you all know how I'm loving Litsy lately, right? This little book is one of the reasons. One day Liberty Hardy (contributor at Book Riot, co-host of the All The Books podcast, cat lover, and a woman who owns so many books she could build a house out of them) decided to take on the challenge of having anyone who sent her two (or three or five, I can't remember exactly) books they love and she would give them a recommendation based on those books. For me, she recommended J. L. Carr's A Month In The Country (a Booker Prize nominee). Two days later I got tagged by a Litten (yeah, we've got ourselves a cutesy nickname) who was putting together a readalong of this book and saw that Liberty had recommended it to me. What are the chances, I ask you?! I already had committed to reading something like seventy zillion pages in September but this is only about 100 pages long and it was my first readalong on Litsy so, of course, I joined in on the fun.
How have I never heard about this book before? Or J. L. Carr? And how can this be a book that was just published in 1980? That would make it a modern classic but there is nothing modern about this book. And it very much should be considered a classic. It has all of the slow beauty of books written in the time period in which it is set, just after the end of World War I.
"...on to the town where market day slowed us to a walk and, sometimes, a half, as other wagons maneuvered on the cobbled square. Farmer's wives stood with baskets of home-churned butter and eggs at their feet or offered for sale early apples, hazel pears, bunches of pinks, whatever country folk had more than enough of in their orchards and gardens. I saw a man swinging a bulldog, its teeth clamped on a bootlace. "Ye'll ha' bother breaking a beeatlaace like this yan if t'dog can't" he cried. And, from another stall, the smell of bread baked that morning reminded me that my hurried breakfast had not quelled hunger.Away from everything he has known before except the skills required to restore the painting, Tom finds the space he needs to heal surrounded by villagers who befriend and encircle him. But we know from the beginning that we are looking back at a time in Tom's past, perhaps the best time. Perhaps a time that made all of the time afterwards bearable.
"This is what I need, I thought - a new start and, afterwards, maybe I won't be a casualty anymore.Well, we live by hope."
"I liked him from that first encounter: he was his own man. And he liked me (which always helps). God, when I think back all those years! And it's gone. All the excitement and pride of that first job, Oxgojdby, Kathy Ellerbeck, Alice Keach, Moon, that season of calm weather - gone as though they'd never been."I was so impressed with Carr's writing. Oxgodby, the church and the surrounding environs come alive; there is the very real feeling of knowing the people; and Carr's observations of life spoke to me. I'll undoubtedly be reading what little else he published before his death. Unfortunately, despite his writing having been well-received, Carr began writing novels late in life with little financial success. Which is such a shame.
"Am I making too much of this? Perhaps. But there are times when man and earth are one, when the pulse of living beats strong, when life s brimming with promise and the future stretches confidently ahead like that road to the hills. Well, I was young."I'll also be looking to track down a copy of the film adaptation starring Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, and Natasha Richardson. Seriously, doesn't an all-star cast like that tell you this is great material?!