A Month in the Country, J L Carr
It was no surprise that everyone loved A Month in the Country. There is something about this tiny novella which is remarkably calming. Perhaps it is the rhythm of the seasons, the long summer moving to autumn (which feels much longer than a month, despite the shortness of the book). Perhaps it is the careful uncovering of the wall paintings, or the exquisite picture of an uncomplicated village life. It was “lovely”, “charming”, “calming and peaceful”: Phew – after last month's choice it was good to have something everyone enjoyed!
Written in 1980, A Month in the Country is set just after the first world War and tells the story of Tom Birkin. At the start of the novella Birkin arrives in a small village in Yorkshire suffering from shell-shock - as well as the trauma of his wife having left him. However, he is looking forward to his first solo job as an art restorer, uncovering a wall painting inside the church. As the long, hot summer progresses the slow, methodical uncovering of the painting together with an uncomplicated life and new local friendships all contribute to his healing. By uncovering the painting, and the life of the man who painted it, Tom begins to heal his wounds – physically and mentally.
We all agreed this was beautifully written. One reader particularly enjoyed how economic J L Carr was with his words – far harder to write concisely than in long form. Another noted how closely the reader lives the experience with Tom Birkin: watching down from the Belfry or listening to the bell ringing in the vicarage. To me the novel felt painterly – a series of vividly painted vignettes, references to art history, a story rich with colours bringing it to life. We were all fascinated to learn about a similar painting near here, on the wall of Chalden Church: here is a link: https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/places/surrey/tandridge/chaldon/chaldon_church_mural/.
As ever, most of the Book Club readers had not been monogamous this month*. The death of the Queen was reflected by one reader immersed in Andrew Morton's Elizabeth and Philip (and Alison Weir's The White Queen), and the death of Hilary Mantel by a re-reading of Wolf Hall – many people have had the same idea and the Mantel titles are all re-printing. In June we read James Rebank's The Shepherd's Life, a gently political memoir about farming and education in the Lake District. His next book, English Pastoral, is an important re-visioning of the English countryside - how it could/should be - which one reader had moved on to, whilst at the same time dipping into Tim Marshall's The Power of Geography (also a previous Bookclub choice!) which is a fascinating account of how geographic features influence global politics. At the moment Bookshop staff are particularly recommending Jean Hanff Korelitz's thriller The Plot, and Laline Paull's The Bees (Margaret Atwood meets Shakespeare...set in a beehive) – both of which had been picked up by Book Clubbers whilst a more unusual, and absolutely gripping read was Simon Parkin's The Island of Extraordinary Captives – the story of the German Jews who escaped to Britain only to find themselves interred on the Isle of Man. Looking for escape from the doom and gloom around, other members had turned to the lighter Mitford stories by Jan Karon, and some escapist science fiction from Isaac Asimov (Caves of Steel – a crime thriller where the side-kick happens to be a robot – a fascinating vision of the future.). Lastly The Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek, a beautiful piece of nature writing written in 1974. Rather like A Month in the Country this has a fixed timescale – set over a year – and is beautiful nature writing and memoir taken from Annie Dillard's journals: definitely one for my reading list.
Our next book is Dave Goulson's A Sting in the Tale. This wonderful piece of non-fiction writing about bumble-bees is utterly captivating and has kept me reading way past my bedtime! Goulson is an – the! - insect expert, working at Sussex University. Don't be put off by the insects – he is a wonderful, captivating and humorous writer..........surprise yourself, and come and tell me what you thought!
Wednesday 26th October. Walking Book Club from 10am
Monday 31st October, 6.30pm in The Bookshop.
Happy reading to you all!