A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr

My one line review summary has not really done this book justice in whetting the appetite of those who read short snippets for guidance in reviews as it is a summary of the book in as much as it describes pretty much what happens but does nothing to allude to its content. And it is in the content that this novel shows its strength; a story of a man, and his job, and the people around him, and his interaction with them. This is a gentle book, taking us through a month in the life of Tom Birkin, survivor of the Great War and a man trying to make a basic living. This pursuit has brought him to a small northern English village, where he has been commissioned by an eccentric will request of a local resident to uncover a painting in the parish church and reveal its beauty to the world.

Birkin is our narrator and the book starts at the time that he disembarks from the train in the station to the time that he completes his work. We are introduced to the villagers who he encounters as well as other outsiders who find Oxgodby now their home, permanent and temporary.

His main interactions are with the vicar and his wife; Moon, an archaeologist, also in the area due to a commission; Mossop, the caretaker of the church; and finally, the Ellerbecks, and local chapel-going family who, through Kathy, the daughter’s curiosity about Birkin’s task and presence in the village, gets entered into their fold.

I think what Carr effectively portrays in this book is people’s natural curiosity about those around them, especially the presence of strangers who come, by their very essence, from somewhere different to them. Add to that, an unusual skill or character trait or the fact that they keep themselves to themselves or have troubles or conflicts from their past, and a story can be crafted of some depth from these original strands.

If you are looking for a book that is full of action, then this is not the one for you. However, if you like books which are well written and perceptive with characters that you can visualise easily, which guides you to its conclusion without provocation or pushiness, then this could satisfy you on a dreary Sunday afternoon in a comfortable chair.

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