Skip to main content

Review: A Month in the Country, by JL Carr


Pages: 135
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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…