A Month in The Country by J.L. Carr (1980) 85 p.

Taking place in and around the fictional Yorkshire village of Oxgodby in the summer of 1920, A Month in the Country is narrated by Tom Birkin, a survivor of the Western Front who has been hired to restore a wall painting in the village church. The novella is narrated from a point far in the future, when he is looking back on his time in Oxgodby with fondness and nostalgia, recognising it as the time when he began to heal from the trauma of war.

It’s a good book. One of those short, excellent little pieces of fiction which you’d never nominate as one of the century’s greatest novels or anything, but which is sort of perfect in and of itself. Carr paints such a vivid picture of the English summer that Tom’s time in Oxgodby almost feels like a memory of your own: sleeping on a camp bed in a church belfry, undertaking an enjoyable and fulfilling long-term project, and not really having anything else to worry about for the immediate future.

A Month in the Country is the kind of classic novella you can see being assigned for high school study, because it’s so short and so rich in symbolism, much like The Great Gatsby. Also like The Great Gatsby, it’s a mistake to assign it to high school students, because it deals with things like regret and the impermanence of time, which high school students are too young to relate to. Fortunately, A Month in the Country touches on a good deal of other things as well – art, religion, love, and the nature of happiness. A really good little book.

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