15 December 2016

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

The number of times this book has been recommended or referred to in one way or another became too many to ignore.  Last October, Natalie from Archetype Books pulled it from the shelves with good things to say.  It appeared as a book for discussion on a Backlisted podcast feed (terrific show, by the way!).  Since I couldn't listen to the discussion until I read the book it was time to end the languishing and just do it.  It's every bit as wonderful and unforgettable as its reputation states.

It's the summer of 1920 when Tom Birkin steps off the train in the north riding of Oxgodby, Yorkshire.  Walking through the rain wearing a sturdy pre-War tweed coat and carrying a rucksack, the young man heads for the village's church.  As an art restorer he has been commissioned to clean a wall of lime-wash to reveal a medieval painting underneath.  Reverend J. G. Keach is about as keen to have Tom around as he would be about plague and pestilence.

Shortly after Tom settles in he meets Charles Moon who is surveying the ground around the churchyard for signs of a burial plot.  Adelaide Hebron bequeathed a lump sum to find out where her ancestor's remains lie as he wasn't allowed to be buried on hallowed ground.  The peaceful surroundings are a welcome balm to both Charles and Tom as they deal with the effects of their time spent in service during the Great War.  Both bear physical and emotional scars.  Tom has an added strain; his wife has left him for another man.  Charles has his own secret ordeal to work through.  Time spent in tasks that allow their minds to heal while keeping them busy will hopefully bring resolution.

Throughout the hot summer, the men become good friends through their shared experience of war and their work.  Tom finds himself looking forward to visits from Alice Keach, the Reverend's wife.  He is irresistibly drawn to her despite knowing she's 'forbidden fruit'.  He's also aware that a dalliance threatens to undo any headway he's made in striving to restore a quiet mind.  At the other end of the spectrum is fourteen year-old Kathy Ellerbeck, delightfully curious about Tom's work.  She quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) turns up to sit in a pew while watching the painting reveal itself.  Kathy is full of questions.  As young as she is, Kathy is often the voice of reason, persuading Tom to engage with others and join her family for meals and outings.  She is a delight...

'Well, Kathy Ellerbeck was one of that rare breed and, to boot, she had the sense to know a kindred spirit wasn't going to be on hand for ever and that she must catch the fleeting moment e'er it fled.  We understood each other perfectly from the moment she flung open the door'.

I'm so glad to finally know what all the fuss is about; to join the ranks of readers persuading others that this is a story that can't be missed.  The message that we all leave a mark, whether large or small, is beautifully expressed in a book barely over one hundred pages.  Small enough to stuff into someone's Christmas stocking perhaps?

Part of a mural - Pickering Church
Yorkshire

10 comments:

  1. Oh this sounds wonderful! Like you, I have heard about it for years and will now find a copy. Just the sort of thing I would love. Wishing you a very happy holiday! xx Sunday

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    1. You will most definitely love this story, Sunday! A good read full of English countryside and art...two things I know you enjoy. Merry Christmas to you and yours! xx

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  2. I remember seeing the film of this years ago - but have never read the book. It sounds great.

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    1. And I'm just the opposite...Colin Firth - how did I ever miss that?! Lovely of you to drop by, seagreen reader.

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    1. Someone dropped it off as a donation to the library - it looked unread. Such a pity because you're right...it's wonderful.

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  4. This book has been recommend to me countless times as well. I even purchased the ebook earlier this year... will make it a must read for 2017. Happy Holidays, Darlene!

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    1. You're in for a treat, JoAnn! And Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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  5. One of my favourite books, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. The movie is also very good. One of those English movies that doesn't desecrate the book. I hope you can get hold of a copy.

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    1. You can stream just about everything these days so I'll be searching a site or two during the holidays. It's going to have to be good to match the movie in my head, Lyn!

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