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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post 'Birdsong' Perfection, 9 Jun. 2010
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This review is from: A Month in the Country (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
`A Month in the Country' is so beautiful and involving that as I was reading it I kept measuring what was left and regretting that there wasn't more. Then as soon as I'd finished it I turned straight around and read it again, this time reading the preface by Penelope Fitzgerald that I had avoided for fear of spoiling the story at the first reading.

Experiences that we may have lost from our daily lives are remembered in delightful detail; the sounds of horses in the lanes coming to take a party out for a Sunday Treat, the deep still peace of the undisturbed countryside, with the interruption of `a vixen howling from the edge of some distant wood or the scream of some small creature set upon in the darkness'. Being more than content with `A bed on a belfry floor'. The constancy of Sunday worship, Chapel or Church; the tradition of food served to a family and guests sitting dutifully together, heads bowed, saying Grace.

Recommended to me as a book that can change a life I was sceptical - I rarely agree with such high praise - I feel strongly now that this truly is a story that stays with you and makes you consider your values and life style today. The simplicity of the men's needs while they worked at their separate projects, paid for by the will of an observant and thinking woman with the `face of a field marshal'. The proffered kindnesses from the Stationmaster (Chapel) to Birkin right from when he stepped off the train but also the coolness and distance the Rector (of the Church) showed in contrast. I especially loved the descriptions of the houses and gardens Birkin was invited into, the huge, nearly empty rectory and the homes of the Ellerbecks, poor Emily's family, Lucy Sykes.

Running through the tale was the caring understanding that there are some things that cannot be spoken of but can be acknowledged. The recognition of what men had to go through in The Great War and the plight of the ragged remnants that were `lucky' enough to return. The uncovering of the past, archaeological and mural was all quite in tune with what needed to happen for the two men who found themselves there for the summer. Birkin and Moon both had their different skills and it was fascinating to watch them at work and to admire their professionalism. Their patient unravelling of centuries old mysteries with some shocking revelations makes for further excitement and anticipation though out this multi layered work.

This is a love story too, a contained kind of love but nevertheless intense and moving. As Birkin says "It's an odd feeling, coming rarely more than once in most of our lifetimes". The hot sultry summer, more than a month in truth, of recovery and for Birkin and Moon at Oxgodby in 1920 is captured in aspic forever with consummate skill. I was so in love with this book that I tried to get hold of a copy of the dvd, a film made in 1986 starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh. Sadly this is almost unobtainable A Month In The Country [DVD] [1987]I did find a copy on an auction site and have enjoyed watching the dvd, it is as good as it can be a representation of the mood of the book. The musical score is easier to get hold of Howard Blake: Violin Concerto "The Leeds"; A Month in the Country Suite; Sinfonietta and I can really recommend this beautiful violin suite for strings.

In the late autumn of this year I listened to this book produced as a Radio 4 play. It was condensed down to the relationship between Birkin, Moon, and the Keaches. Running for one hour it caught the essence of the story beautifully. Helpfully it was quickly accessible for for being straightforward and actually explained the mystery more clearly than the book.

Weeks after reading this I am, if it is possible to be so, 'homesick' for the book. I keep harking back to Oxgodby and the belfry and feel sad that I am no longer within that space.The writing is a shining example of what makes a `classic'. Along with the `The Remains of The Day', `Birdsong' I know I shall be recommending others to read this for the rest of my life.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Aug 2011, 16:43:45 BST
J. Murray says:
Wonderful review - thank you! This book has been one of my very top favourites since I first read it about fifteen years ago, (and have read it many times since) and you express my feelings about it much better than I could do myself. Homesick for Oxgody indeed!

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2011, 17:18:03 BST
Thank you very much indeed. I am still able to visit that belfry and look out at Moon in his bell tent, all of life condensed down to the happenings in Oxgodby...

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Feb 2015, 22:03:51 GMT
Jillicus says:
I just love this book and was so delighted to see that so many people felt the same way about it as I do. It has left me with this inner yearning for something beyond time.. something inexplicable . the something that this book leaves you with a taste of. Wonderful!
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Review Details



Katharine Kirby

Location: HELSTON, Cornwall United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 385