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on 1 July 2003
J L Carr, was a man whose name is as enigmatic and as varied as his writing. Christened as Joseph, know to his friends as Jim and published at least once as James, J L Carr is quite possibly one of the finest English novelists of the 20th century. He was also well known for being a private and closed person, who presented a different side of his character to different people. And for being a puckish humorist who enjoyed teasing the literary establishment. As he did with the biographer Michael Holroyd to whom he awarded the fictitious Ellerbeck Literary Award, along with a remaindered copy of "The Harpole Report" and a token for a pound a best steak.

An enigma. A private person. A bit of "card". A tough proposition for any biographer, let alone one who confesses at the start of the book, "until I started writing this book, I had little idea of what biography involved". And yet, Byron Rogers' painstakingly researched, beautifully written and immensely pleasing book is not only a worthy tribute to his memory and achievements but in its own right, a fine example of the biographer's art.

Perhaps his lack of experience as a biographer is the reason that he devoted the time and effort to track down and interview first hand the witnesses to the events in Carr's life. This not only includes friends and colleagues but also pupils and even parents of the children he taught both in the UK, and on his two exchange experiences in the US.

This research gives the reader familiar with Carr's work a fascinating insight into where the facts of his life merged into the fiction he wrote. On several occasions Rogers reminds us that Carr's publishers would have had a heart attack if they knew just how close to real and living individuals some of the fictional characters in his books really were.

If there is one biographical work you should buy this year, this is it. Here is the story of an Englishman, his love of the real England (outside of London!), his devotion to his profession (both teaching and writing) and how his life experiences found their way into some of the most urbane, original and exquisite literature of the last 50 years.

By the time the book is finished, I felt as though I had really come to know J L Carr, almost to the extent that I could sit down in the pub with his friends and swap stories. The book itself includes some excellent photographs in which readers familiar with Carr's work will recognise many references to his works.

The real legacy of this work is that Rogers' book will be available for many generations in the future to understand the context and complexity of J L Carr and for that both he and his subject will be remembered for many years.

NOTE on 09/2006: I think it an absolute crime that this book is currently unavailable. It is a classic and well worth the money for any true J L Carr fan.
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on 12 November 2012
Like all great biographies, this book doesn't just bring to life an author, or his work, but it manages to recreate the spirit of a lost age. J L Carr was many things, and given that his masterwork (A Month In The Country) didn't arrive until he was 68, there is a big back-story to tell. The degree to which each of his varied life chapters eventually produces a matching novel is extraordinary in its literalness, and reveals a process towards justifiable, if belated, recognition and (partial) reward that gives hope to all of us. Byron Rogers has the benefit of being a long-time friend and death-bed confidant of his subject, but he makes the most of his advantages and tells a wonderful, inspirational life story.
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on 11 March 2004
For any readers who know nothing of J.L. Carr beyond his classic "A month in the Country", Byron Rogers' book introduces a portrait as detailed as the maps of England his hero drew and illustrated.
Carr led a very public life as a headmaster, campaigner and publisher. But he was not an intimate man, as his son ruefully commented to the biographer. Many of his acquaintances were baffled by him. Reading this book merely increases his mystery for the reader. And his fascination: for Carr wrote like an angel. He wrote in terse, dry sentences with the ability to move you and make you laugh very hard. Byron Rogers is clearly influenced by him, in awe of him, and tries to recapture in his biography some of the mood of Carr's own work. He succeeds in doing that, and has created a lovely book and a fine biography.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 April 2013
"He was the Last Englishman"

I first became aware of J.L. Carr having read his novel "A Month in the Country (Penguin Modern Classics)". It is one of the best books I have ever read. It is rare that I have felt so powerfully affected by a story. In short, it's a masterpiece, and one that I look forward to re-reading. A few days after finishing "A Month in the Country (Penguin Modern Classics)", I read another J.L. Carr novel "The Harpole Report by Carr, J. L. New Edition (2003)" - a very different book, both in terms of style and content, but a great read. So, by now, I was very intrigued by J.L. Carr. Who was he? How did he come to write two such contrasting books? Fortunately his friend, and journalist, Byron Rogers wrote this biography that was published in 2003.

I am very grateful to Byron Rogers for such a readable and thorough account of the unusual J.L. Carr. I tend to overuse the word maverick, however can confidently label J.L. Carr as a maverick. In short he was brought up in a staunchly Methodist, and deeply religious, family in the North East of England; he was a teacher, and head teacher; was a photographer in the RAF during the war; spent time in South Dakota teaching; played amateur football; campaigned for the preservation of a disused village church; and, upon retiring, became both a writer and a publisher. That, however, is but a fraction of what defined this fascinating character. It is his intellect, idiosyncrasies, values, determination, and originality, that make this book worth reading. Not only are all his novels biographical, and therefore this biography provides helpful and illuminating insights, his is also one of the most unusual lives I can imagine - despite hiding behind a facade of profound ordinariness. J.L. Carr died on 26 February 1994, and that was, to quote Byron Rogers, "the last day of his life and the only one in which he had not been fully conscious."

I will be reading the rest of J.L. Carr's novels, and my enjoyment and understanding will be greatly enhanced by this splendid biography. I heartily recommend it: interesting and inspiring.

Finally, I should mention that The Quince Tree Press, J.L. Carr's small publishing company, is still in business, and is run by J.L. Carr's son and daughter-in-law. All J.L. Carr's novels are available, in addition to to a range of pocket books, and J.L. Carr's maps of English counties. I intend to foist them on my friends and relatives at Christmas and/or on their birthdays.
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VINE VOICEon 4 November 2012
Byron Rogers has written a delightfully discursive biography of a complex, fascinating and highly gifted man who wrote one undoubted masterpiece, "A Month in the Country", and a number of other novels which are equally interesting if not in the same class as that book, and who also, as an independent publisher, following his retirement as a primary school headmaster, wrote a large series of tiny books on cricket, history and genealogy.

This biography is in many ways an ideal tribute to a remarkable man and joins that small list of biographies which demonstrate that to write a person's life, an author must accept that his or her subject is likely to be contradictory, fallible, highly idiosyncratic, difficult and frequently elusive. It is clear from Byron Rogers' great book that J L Carr was all of these things and more.

Highly recommended.
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on 12 November 2008
Let's be frank. Many people will not be familiar with, nor possible even have heard of the name J.L.Carr. That is a pity. Carr's novella 'A Month in the Country' (rendered into a beautiful movie with Richard Brannar, Colin Firth, Partick Malahide and Natasha Richardson et al) is one of the finer pieces of English literary fiction which resounds strikingly with awful reminiscences of the Great War.

In actual fact, 'A Month in the Country' is only an indication of the rich and - in certain ways - 'regular, yet curiously off-beat' personality and character that was the man called Jim Carr; a collector, decrepit Church fanatic, miniature book publisher and a superb writer.

Byron Rogers has produced a superbly interesting and readable biography about the life and happenings this quite remarkable man. We could argue around the clock about whether or not the epithet 'The Last Englishman' (also attributed to Hereward the Wake, and others, by the way!) is an entirely defensible one; in any case it is one quoted not smithed by Rogers. This would be to miss the point, though, which is that the achievements and struggles of Carr's life will strike familiar chords with many of us.

The work is both, at the same time, appreciative and highly critical of Carr. Rogers has not skimped on his research and has managed to delve and to unearth heaps of what were (this reviewer suspects) largely redundant and forgotten ecclesiastical and municipal documents which shed light on the controversies and contests Jim Carr was involved in with one institution or another. Such research requires considerable time, patience, diligence and expertise and this reviewer congratulates the author on his achievement: a remarkable book about a remarkable man.

Michael Calum Jacques
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on 30 October 2015
Rogers, Byron. The Last Englishman: The Life of JL Carr
Who but JL Carr would leave cricket and the relative comfort of Birmingham to teach the sons of pioneers in the Great Plains of South Dakota? Nearly 40 years later - after writing and self-publishing his Small Books on every notable English poet, from Arnold to Wordsworth - Carr, through Viking, published the much revised The Battle of Pollocks Crossing, his American novel. ‘The horror [of America] was there almost from the beginning,’ says Rogers, when ‘he saw in Chicago police with axes raid a gambling hall, a savage scene that he, alone among passers-by, stopped to watch.’ For Carr violence ‘was as American as oversweet apple-pie.’ Although he carried no weapon, his pupils are shocked that that a teacher still uses a ruler to administer punishment. He believed in discipline, something entirely new to his unruly pupils.
The Harpole Report (Secker and Warburg, 1972) is based largely on his headship experience at Highfields in Kettering, where he stayed for 15 years. For Rogers, Kettering, once workaday but interesting has now become ‘a town of chain stores, supermarkets, inner ring roads, and is without past, character or point.’ Fame of a sort came to Carr when he won The Guardian Fiction Prize in 1980 for A Month in the Country,generally recognised as his best novel. Pollocks Crossing, shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize, is now a Penguin Modern Classic. Carr lives on as the essential English eccentric, his uneven work and his reclusive nature placing him in the odd-ball class of writers; he was perhaps more interested in public affairs and church preservation. A casual author, but a good one to relax with, like John Betjeman, homespun and very English.
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on 30 January 2013
I share two things in common with J.L. Carr - I've been a headteacher and I write novels. So my attraction to this biography was pretty inevitable really and I wasn't disappointed. It really is a good read. It's very well and sympathetically written and brings out the quirkiness of its subject. I came to it after reading 'A Month in the Country' which I believe is a great novel. Reading the biography led me back to other Carr novels. I certainly recommend this to anyone who enjoys biographies even if they've not been a headteacher or written any novels!
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on 17 October 2014
Readers who may have read some of Carr's novels need to read this exceptional book. It provides a wonderful Insight into a man whose contribution to the body of English literature is quite unique but never truly received the recognition it deserves. Rogers approaches his subject with great care dealing with each stage of Carr's life in separate chapters. He writes with great clarity emulating Carr's own command of language and style. It is a true pleasure to read.
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on 3 September 2014
This biography justly acknowledges a very fine and surprisingly little known author and reads rather like a Carr novel itself.
I would have liked a little more delving into Carr's background in order to arrive at a fuller view of his personality.
Well worth a read.
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