Is there a more perfect novella . . .
. . . than J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country? Earlier this week I took my friend Sue Hepworth (writer of excellent romcom novels) out for a birthday treat. We went to see an adaptation of A Month in the Country performed in the upstairs room of a local hotel by North Country Theatre. This magnificent little company performs a different play every autumn in village halls, arts centres and the odd theatre all over the north of England. It is run on a shoestring. Nobby Dimon is the artistic director, writing, adapting, acting and directing. On this occasion the small cast were fed and accommodated by one of my neighbours. Sue and I sat on the front row and lapped it up. It was so skilfully adapted, so well acted and there was something magical in being so close to the actors.
Afterwards I went home and reread the novella. In the summer of 1920 two men meet in the depths of the Yorkshire countryside. Tom Birkin is a shell-shocked survivor of WWI, who has come to uncover a medieval wall-painting in the church. Charles Moon, also a ex-soldier, traumatised in a different way, is engaged in an archeological dig in the neighbouring field. It’s a story then about the effects of war, but also about love, memory, community, religion, the power of art and of landscape and the changing seasons. It is a little bit Hardyesque, but it’s funny, too, and all in around 100 pages.