After a lifetime of teaching English literature, I have accumulated a private and rather eclectic pantheon of great (mainly modern) novels, in which J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country holds a central place. Carr finished it in 1978, and it was published in 1980 by the Harvester Press, and then by Penguin in paperback. The novel received more acclaim in America than in Britain, although it did make the shortlist for the Booker Prize, where it lost out to one of William Golding’s less successful novels. In due course, as was Carr’s wont – because he thought little of most commercial publishers – he bought back the rights and published it under his own imprint of the Quince Tree Press, from which (blessedly) copies are still available (as are Carr’s seven other novels).
It is generally agreed that A Month in the Country is Carr’s masterpiece, although it is a very short novel (E. M. Forster would have defined it as a novella): in the Quince Tree edition, 106 pages only. It is set in Yorkshire in 1920, in what was apparently a marvellous summer. The two central characters, Tom Birkin and Charles Moon, had been soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front. We discover, quite late on, that Moon had been found in bed with his batman, stripped of his captain’s rank and sent to a military prison, despite a record of bravery which had won him the Military Cross. Birkin had been a ‘forward signaller’, sent out beyond the trenches to direct artillery fire; very few of them survived for long. So both he and Moon know about Hell, though they call it Passchendaele.
Birkin (the first-person narrator of the novel) and Moon are benefiting from a legacy given by the late Miss Adelaide Hebro
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About the contributor
C. J. (Jonty) Driver has written novels, memoirs, biographies and seven collections of poems, the latest of which is Before (2018). Another collection, Still Further: New Poems, 2000–2019, will be published by the Uhlanga Press this year.
J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country can be ordered direct from the Quince Tree Press (www.quincetreepress.co.uk).
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