A Month in the Country

by J. L. Carr, 1980

Short historical novel – 106 pages – set in England in the summer of 1920. A young man, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the horror that was WWI, and having an unfaithful wife, is hired to restore a painting on the wall of a church in a tiny town in rural England. He ends up healing emotionally during his month there. The townspeople love him and he loves them. His first friend is Charles Moon, a fellow veteran doing work in the field nearby (looking for the bones of their benefactor’s ancestor). This young man is entertaining and friendly. He ends up being gay, Tom finds out later from a fellow soldier he runs into while visiting another town with Mr. Ellerbeck to help them buy a new (used) organ. Tom Birkin is very likable. He is painstakingly removing the grime and white wash from a 15th century painting on a church wall. He works and lives in the belfry of the church. But the nice townspeople won’t let him remain all by himself. They get him to help with Sunday school and sports teams and come over for Sunday tea and dinner, etc. The vicar’s wife is beautiful and he ends up in love with her, and she is in love with him, but it is unrequited. At the end of the month, the summer is over, his work is finished, and his wife has found him and asked him to return. It’s a sweet, lovely book. The only problem is the dialect and the things they know and speak of familiarly of which I’ve never heard. But you still manage to feel the atmosphere of beauty, love, warmth in the English countryside.

This was a book recommended by the book-a-day calendar Christie gave me and I found it in a little free library. Here’s how the book-a-day described it:

“An Artful Idyll

At the outset of J. L. Carr’s compact novel, A Month in the Country, Tom Birkin, a World War I survivor and a veteran of a broken marriage, arrives in a remote Yorkshire village to restore a medieval mural in the local church. Setting up his summer abode in the bell tower, he is charmed by the blooming countryside even as he passes his days absorbed in resurrecting an anonymous artist’s apocalyptic vision. It is, however, Birkin’s own restoration to faith in life that the book tellingly portrays, through a season of renewal that’s enduring despite its swift passage. Simple in outline and wonderfully written, A Month in the Country is hauntingly beautiful in its effect.”