“Nothing’s so secret as what’s between man and wife.”
In A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, Tom Birkin arrives in the remote country village of Oxgodby to restore a medieval mural that has been discovered in a local church. Birkin is still recovering from WWI and suffers from nightmares about the trenches. He bears a permanent, hideous facial disfigurement, but his wounds are far deeper than this. Coming to Oxgodby is really a chance for Birkin to recoup some peace of mind. He also has domestic troubles in his past, and so the solitary workday spent restoring the mural becomes a healing process for Birkin. His intention is to work on the mural, maintain a solitary existence, and eek out the pittance he is paid for several months. And in one glorious summer, Birkin comes to terms with the horrors of his past.
The curiosity of the villagers soon pulls Birkin into the quaintness of village family life. Male companionship, in the form of the archeologist, Moon–a fellow WWI survivor offers a rare chance for Birkin to enjoy an equal intellect, but the company of the vicar’s wife, Alice Keach proves to be at once the greatest distraction and the sweetest consolation. Mrs Keach is the second surprising treasure Birkin uncovers in Oxgodby.
The book is full of marvelous characters. I particularly enjoyed the precocious, wise-beyond-her-years, Kathy Ellerbeck. Even the sour Vicar, Keach, who appears dull at first, becomes interesting after Birkin visits the vicar and his wife at their bleak, vast dwelling (it doesn’t qualify as a home). I enjoyed this book immensely–it’s one of the very best books I’ve read this year and one I shall most definitely reread. A Month in the Country is a bittersweet tale of compromise, regret, acceptance, and the consolations that are necessary for survival. Above all, Birkin understands that “the bright belief that there will be another marvelous thing around the corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies.”