Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

It hardly seems possible this was first written in 1978. It has the feel of a much older book, for Carr has entered the past and settled in there as though it were his. This belongs to that class of novels that wear their truths lightly: nearly every page describes a look, a feeling, a moment that we recognize no matter that the characters precede us by one hundred years.

Shortly after WWI, a returned soldier comes to an old church in the north of England with the intention of uncovering an old mural concealed beneath lime wash centuries before. It is slow work, and it is summer. He is not well paid. There is something to be said for penury. When one has little, one has no shield to wield off experience. When one is hungry, nearly everything tastes good.

J.L. Carr says, in his introduction that his original intention was to write a rural idyll and “I wanted its narrator to look back regretfully across forty or fifty years but, recalling a time irrecoverably lost, still feel a tug at the heart.” (Intro, xxi) The mural, the quiet, steady effort of the work, the townspeople, the vicar and the vicar’s wife, the weather: all these were “lying about in memory and employ[ed]… to suit one’s ends.”

Though slight in size (just over one hundred pages from start to finish), this novel carries with it the stories of all time. It carries it’s knowledge lightly, carelessly even, and will make this book relevant and enjoyable reading for years to come. Thank goodness for The New York Review of Books. They are saving classic literature from oblivion.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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