James Lloyd Carr's 'A month in the country' is a surprisingly refreshing tale of a young shock shelled war veteran who arrives in Yorkshire village of Oxgodby to restore a medieval mural in the local church. The 14th century mural was hidden beneath layers of paint and is used to symbolize the hidden real self of the protagonist. Everything is told from the viewpoint of the narrator, Tom Birkin, who comes to this small countryside after he has been through horrible experiences i.e. war and a broken marriage. His soul is severely scarred and there appears to be no way out of the horrible psychological condition that he has developed after the war. Coming to the countryside is part of the healing process that the narrator undergoes and finally finds peace with himself and the reality of his situation.
In the introduction to the book, Michael Holroyd writes: "Carr, combining ancient and modern, gives a hilarious welcome to the new chapel organ while, in the church, he reclaims the past when Birkin finally reveals the fourteenth-century painting (Birkin's affection for the hopelessly out-of-date stove refers amusingly to Hardy's novel). Both novelists compensate for a dark pessimism with their faith in the fundamental decency of the ordinary villagers. But Hardy, for once contriving a cheery ending, has his heroine, the flighty Fancy Day, reject the parson and marry the man she loves. Carr weaves a more imaginative and ambiguous ending: "I have sometimes wondered if it was a dream."
The story itself is simple but the way it is told makes all the difference. While on the surface it might sound like another story concerning a war veteran and his nightmares, but underneath the mediocrity of the plot, likes brilliant narrative and a writing style that reminds us of Romantic poets. In fact the author himself concurs that his initial intention was to write something on the lines of English Romantic poetry. However what he ends up creating is both a great romantic tale and a powerful story about soul searching and healing.
Anyone experiencing a painful situation can easily identify with the pain that the narrator is suffering because Birkin is not a one-dimensional flat character. Carr instill life in this character by assigning him certain attributes including empathy and a deep desire to believe in life, love and beauty. Despite the experiences of the past, our hero retains a childlike innocence that makes him fall in love with the countryside, its timelessness and its people. A month in the country is a story describing just that- one summer in the village that completely alters the narrator's viewpoint about life and gives him the strength to accept his painful reality and move on.
Describing the countryside and his time there, Birkin says: "There was so much time, that marvellous summer. Day after day, mist rose from the meadow as the sky lightened and hedges, barns and woods took shape until, at last, the long curving back of the hills lifted away from the Plain. It was a sort of stage magic -- "Now you don't see; indeed, there is nothing to see. Now look!" Day after day it was like that and each morning I leaned on the yard gate dragging at my first fag and (I'd like to think) marvelling at this splendid backcloth. But it can't have been so; I'm not the marvelling kind. Or was I then? But one thing is sure -- I had a feeling of immense content and, if I thought at all, it was that I'd like this to go on and on, no one going, no one coming, autumn and winter always loitering around the corner, summer's ripeness lasting for ever, nothing disturbing the even tenor of my way (as I think someone may have said before me)." -- p 62
While the narrator is suffering from the effects of a trauma, he doesn't loses his ability to laugh and use humor where need arises. Birkin has the ability to make a scene come alive with the sheer power of his witty observations and heart-wrenching comments. The humor in the book is what keeps the characters alive. The narrator's comments on various characters make…