Original date of publication: 1980
My edition: 2000 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of NYRB Classics
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011
In A Month in the Country, a young art conservationist comes to the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgoodby to restore a medieval wall mural. The novel is set in the summer of 1920 andTom Birkin is still scarred by the Great War and the breaking-up of his marriage.
A Month in the Country is written in almost poetic language and in a slow, lazy style, almost like the summer month in which the book is set. As JL Carr says in his introduction, “my idea was to write an easy-going story, a rural idyll along the lines of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree.” There’s definitely a feeling of reminiscing about this book and wistfulness on Tom’s part as he looks back on that summer form a distance of several decades.
The novel is populated with a number of interesting, rounded characters, not the least of which is Tom himself—sarcastic, cynical, somewhat irreverent. For example, when he has his first encounter with the Reverend JG Keach.
Unnatural Activities told on him. Unnatural Activities are bad enough in London but what they got up to in the country—and up here in the North on top of that! And it’s well known that Sin is blown up twice life-sized when reporting to the clergy… indeed I looked like an Unsuitable Person likely to indulge in Unnatural Activities who, against his advice, had been unnecessarily hired to uncover a wall-painting he didn’t want to see, and the sooner I got it done and buzzed off back to sin-stricken London the better.
We see the story from Tom’s point of view, but it goes beyond the fact that this is written in the first person; we see objects and people as he, as an artist, would see them, right down to the masonry the church is made of. Even inanimate objects come to life, particularly the mural Tom uncovers, which turns out to be a marvelous specimen of medieval art. It’s a beautifully-written story, and one that I much enjoyed.