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[128] A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr

carr.jpgMan Booker Challenge #1 – Novella Challenge #1

“But oddly, what happened outside was like a dream. It was inside the still church, before its reappearing picture, that was real. I drifted across the rest. As I have said–like a dream. For a time.” (47)

A Month in the Country is conventionally quirky. A veteran of the Great War, Tom Birkin takes up the task of restoring a hidden mural at a church in a small village. It isn’t known earlier in the book why he does so until he scrapes an acquaintance with some of the townfolks especially the wife of the vicar. Enfolded in summer’s heaviness, Birkin labors daily to uncover the lost masterpiece of an anonymous medieval painter with a faith that compensates for the looming pressimism. Devotion to hard work also helps keep his grief of a broken marriage at bay. As the extraordinary depiction of the apocalypse slowly emerges on the wall of the chapel, Birkin also finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. So the commission has become also his resurrection. A month in the country, during a bright and propitious season, amidst the picturesque realm and dreamscape, serves as a redeeming experience that restores his senses.

If his life has been overcast by the painful fact that his wife has run away with another man, that Birkin has been buried in bereavement is an analogy to the beautiful mural that was intentionally hidden underneath a thick layer of lime wash. Like his drudgery to scrub away the peel, it’s up to Birkin to bring back true colors and shapes to his life. By the end of summer, with the work done, he must leave the town. But just as he has reflected, an inexplicable numbness, or whatever magic that has befallen him during the few weeks in the country, has rekindled him. He finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

I leave you with a passage that nails it for me:

“We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours forever—the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.” (135)

Stone Hitting Two Birds


This is going to be a short post, as it’s just hours away from my flight to Hong Kong. I have sneaked out to the bookstore for some last-minute shopping and reading ideas, in case the bookshop at the airport doesn’t stock what I want. (Usually it’s the case.) I’ve been trying to look for books to take with me that will cross the Man Booker Challenge and the Novella Challenge. I have found A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, a slim novel about a divorced man who arrives in a small village and uncovers a 400-years-old medieval mural in the church. It reminds me of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, which is also rooted in English village life and has plots that revolve around the village church. I will also read The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Booker Prize, by Anne Enright. It’s a literary fiction about nine surviving siblings gathering in Dublin for the wake of their brother, Liam, who drowned in the sea. The writing intrigues me as I flip through the book—it’s an act of remembrance through words and family history, as the narrator, Veronica, one of the nine, prepares to break the news of Liam’s death to her mother. Also stuffed in my bag is Lisa See’s Peony in Love, a story that set in Ming Dynasty as befit to my trip to Beijing. I’ll be blogging abroad but it might take me a bit longer to reply to the comments. Keep reading, and I’ll check in from time to time to update you my reading, and, of course, posting some pictures! 

Challenge Update

I totally agree with Andi that The Journal of Dora Damage should garner more attention and dance all over critics’ radar. It’s very intriguing read that not only Dora binds these pornographies for the high society behind her husband’s back, but she also suffers from the scruple of doing so. For she has navigated into areas for which her upbringing and society had not prepared her. But there is more to this bookbinding commission. I’m drowning right in the first twist and turn of the story and I simply cannot set the book down. More update and review later.

For Russian Reading Challenge 2008 I’ve got two down and just finished the third, Bulgakov’s A Dead Man’s Memoir (also known as A Theatrical Novel), a somewhat unfinished (unresolved) novel that is emblematic of a writer persecuted. It was partially his own story of failing as a playwright that satirizes many of the contemporary artists. The ongoing read for this challenge is Anna Karenina which cross-lists the Chunkster Reading Challenge. Also lined up for this stunt is Ken Follett’s latest, World Without End, which Bookpuddle has read and recommended recently. I also read along Les Miserables (the unabridged edition) with some of you.

Ex Libris has mentioned the Man Booker Challenge hosted by The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I have yet to select my 6 Booker Prize short-listing/winners but plan to stop by the bookstore for some ideas before leaving for Beijing. I wonder if the recent Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner would qualify for this project? Other ideas include John Banville (a favorite author) and J.L. Carr. Last but certainly not the least, I read about the Novella Reading Challenge from Eva. I plan to read unheard-of titles from favorite authors like Naguib Mahfouz and John Banville. Included in her suggested list is Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander which if I remember correctly Danielle read last year.

Whoa so many books! They fall over me like blocks descending in the Tetris video game. Just a thought.