A Month in the Country

I read this book on a loose recommendation from MJ Wright, who mentioned it on reading my review of M.L. Stedmans’ The Light Between Oceans.  The character Tom Sherbourne in that book was a returning veteran from World War I, he was a man who didn’t have much to return to and chose the lone, isolated lighthouse as his place to work in his attempt to recover from the horrors of war.

I gained more a sense of his disturbance and difficulties in dealing with the ghosts of that past, the guilt that plagued him at being alive when so many of his compatriots had not made it, than I did from our Tom here in the country, the author choosing to infer rather than describe the thoughts and memories of his experience, protecting the reader somewhat from that horror.

Tom Birkin is home from the war and spends a memorable month in 1920 restoring a medieval wall painting in a small village church, where he is not entirely welcome, the commission being a pre-requisite to the Church receiving a substantial financial bequest from an elderly woman who has passed. Tom having discovered his wife has taken up with another man, travels north and spends his days on the ladder meticulously uncovering the work of a man he thinks about so often that by the end comes to know intimately, divining what happened to him.

I didn’t look like a Churchman. Indeed I looked like an Unsuitable Person likely to indulge in Unnatural Activities who, against his advice, had been unnecessarily hired to uncover a wall-painting he didn’t want to see, and the sooner I got it done and buzzed off back to sin-stricken London the better.

He befriends another man, known as Moon, who has been commissioned to dig outside the church boundary for a lost fourteenth century grave, one man working on high, the other down below. Outsiders both, they become as close as men can be who have no other friends and the unspoken experience of war between them. I wondered about the significance of digging up a grave, having read in The Light Between Oceans of the disturbing memories this invoked for Tom Sherbourne, when he had to dig one on the island, however it seemed not to have the same effect on these two men or if it did, we were not exposed to those thoughts.

A semi-autobiographical, slow burning novella, its pace like a refreshing walk in the English countryside, keeping two men occupied in that aftermath of war before returning to that same but changed place that will become the rest of their lives. It would be comforting to think that a month in the country could work magic for a returning war veteran, however I think it more likely to have been a brief but necessary respite.

It being the festive season, I couldn’t miss an opportunity with a title like A Month in the Country, to share this delightful photo sent by my family in New Zealand a few days before Christmas, having explained to a few friends here that we are not really into eating turkey and as you can see, they feel quite safe to wander up the driveway of my father’s home and show off their brood.

Happy New Year to you all and thank you for reading Word by Word and sharing your thoughts.

I hope to continue to find time to read a book a week in 2013, and have upped my challenge to 60 books!

All the best to you for 2013!