A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

Genre: Literary fiction
Year of publication: 1980
Setting & time: Yorkshire, UK; 1920

The first of the short novels I have been reading, A Month in the Country, describes a summer the narrator, now approaching retirement, spent in a small Yorkshire village when he was a young man, restoring a medieval church mural. He is a southerner himself and is at first suspicious of the northerners he has been cast among, but soon comes to be friends with a local family and develops a complicated relationship with the local vicar and his wife. Suffering from a nervous stammer and a twitch after his experiences in the war and further traumatised by the behaviour of his unfaithful wife, the idyllic surroundings and gentle people he meets have a curative effect on him and he returns home to London in a much better mental state than when he left.

This is an idyllic novel that deals with happiness, which is quite unusual for a literary novel, a genre better known for wallowing in misery and pain. There is something in it, perhaps a nostalgia for a time long gone, that reminds me of sections of Cider with Rosie and Lark Rise. It touches on complicated themes, e.g. faith vs. religion, love in its various guises, war and peace, country and city. The central theme is self-discovery and healing, with the narrator arriving twitchy and uneasy and leaving, reluctantly, twitch-free, content and at ease with himself, feelings we know, from hints dropped by the narrator about his current situation, will not last. It’s a perfect, uplifting but ultimately bittersweet little novel. 4+ stars.

P.S.
There is a movie, made in 1987, starring Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, and Natasha Richardson, and was an early film for all of them - in fact it was Branagh’s first movie and Firth’s first lead role in a film. It's going on my "To Watch" list of movies based on books.

Below are links to a couple of other more detailed reviews. Both reveal some plot elements, so they are perhaps best read after the book.

A Year with Short Novels: J.L. Carr’s Chance for Renewal

Review from Albion Magazine

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