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Cornflower book group

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Dark Puss

I agree with many of the comments that Cornflower makes and since she has put them so much better than I can I'll not revisit them. I didn't think so highly of the book which I would classify as a pleasant short story rather than anything more profound. I wasn't so taken with the nostalgia and I thought that there was a little too much predicatability and cliche in the characters to make this a really good book. I did enjoy reading it and I think that sex played quite a role in the novel. Lust and love sublimated, the fear of being an "outed" homosexual in less enlightened times, the challenge of faithfullness and the lure of infidelity all came across quite strongly to me as I read it. I thought that it dealt well with the challenges, or perhaps escape from these challenges, of emotionally damaged people trying to rebuild their lives after an appalling war.

Barbara MacLeod

It's a gem of a book! Very gentle, unaggressive. Like so many things in life what you get out of it is related to how you come to it. Just as the story itself is about someone back from the trenches of WW1 and how his time spent in the country helps him recover, a potential reader, who is feeling raw and jangled, would find this book a good 'escape', in fact, quite restorative. The canvas is small, the outcome positive. The point of view is a shared personal experience of someone young, and vulnerable, during a short period of time and circumscribed place.

The 'month' is a transition period, a twilight zone. At one level it is the world of 1920's England, of old churches and village life but at another level it is the world of a Kind Word, a Thoughtful Gesture which provide the balm that soothes. He is totally engaged with his restoration project, the countryside and the people he meets during his stay. "...this steady rhythm of living and working got into me, so that I felt part of it and had my place, a foot in both present and past...".

Getting along in life seems to be about engagement or contingency. As human beings this is where and how we get our feedback and validates us as individuals. Being in a - or getting back to - a state of equilibrium ('ease' as opposed to 'dis-ease') is what keeps us going and gets us through the day. There were many ways he achieved this and none more so than his experiences of 'sharing'. There are all sorts of sharings in the story - the villagers, the archaeologist, the unknown painter of the mural who is, he states, "a secret sharer".

I enjoyed how the different relationships developed in the story. The ones that went nowhere: e.g. the Colonel. "I never exchanged a word with [him].... We looked blankly at each other. Here I am, here you are. What are we doing here? What do you suppose it is all about?" through to the scene with Alice at the end, culminating in the 'moment' together at the window. The author shares this intimate - inner - experience with us. Life often has these 'moments': nothing is said, they are what they are. They simply remain in the memory (and feed the soul for all that.) They do have a very special quality. Unlike a solitary situation (e.g. seeing a beautiful sunset) the quality of this type of experience is special because it is shared with another person. He/she knows and you both know that the other knows. Maybe it will go somewhere else; maybe it won't. In this case it did not. Nonetheless, there is a connection between 2 human beings; I like to think it helps with healing.

In return for, perhaps, some Cornflower Cake, as well as your Company, I would like to offer a piece of music that might make a good fit to this story: Mozart's Andante amoroso (the slow movement from Sonata in B flat K. 281). It is one his earliest, written when 19 years old where 'amoroso' points to a special mood, tender rather than passionate.


Hi there

I liked what I saw as the difficulty the characters had in communicating with each other, their wariness of each other, I liked the Vicar and his wife and I was haunted a little by the Vicarage. Strangely the story merges in my mind with A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie..the plots merge ..I think Miss Marple lives in the village I think the Vicar and his wife are the same characters . And that village could easily be the village where I live and have my being ...there is a railway station, and you walk up the steps from the station and turn left and start up the hill and the church is on your right....I am interested in Vicars, the Vicar is ,for example, different from the Vicars of George Elliot, or Jane Austen, or A S Byatt- who meditates on the role of Vicars in her Frederica Quartet.

I thought the idea behind the novel was good , potentially better than good, but what did it give me to help me think about what it is like to live today ?.don't we always need to be shown and taught and helped about this..... so it became a story, one that lingers in the mind definitely but I wished for something more....ah well!!!!

Simon T

I read this just over a year ago, and though I don't remember enormous amounts about it, I do recall that I loved it! The atmosphere, the passion for the past, the gentle interaction of characters. The vicarage took a slightly different tone - I could feel how shadowy and secretive it was. JL Carr does seem exceptional at writing evocative and atmospheric settings - they've stayed in my mind when the plot has gone.


I absolutely loved this book! To me, it is like looking into a paperweight, or a snow globe, examining a time and place that have been miniaturized and perfected by the passage of time. The writing is superb, timing faultless.

Mary McCartney

I liked the stillness of this book. I read it in a hospital sideward two weeks ago where someone close to me was very ill and I felt calmed by it where other books would have irked.


I loved this book.I read it when I was 17 and now have read it again at the age of 42.I don't think as a teenager I appreciated the book in all it's poignancy and gentle "stillness".I love your choice of that word,Mary. I can't remember what the nun teaching us in
1984 made of Moon being homosexual,but I like to think those nuns were a lot more openminded and accepting than so many people like to make them out to be! It was probably us silly schoolgirls who made a big thing about it.My favourite character would have to be Kathy Ellerbeck..."big for her age,blue eyed and freckled,a knowing looking girl." Tom recognises her straight away as a kind of kindred spirit.I like to think of Kathy as helping Tom heal and regain his sense of connection to the world.The scenes where he is "volunteered"to replace Mr.Ellerbeck as the preacher are priceless. I also loved the simple food references in the book...Tom sharing a mug of tea with Moon every morning,Tom missing out on dessert at the Ellerbecks because "they didn't serve a sweet pudding on Sundays."
I would love to get hold of the movie version now.It would be such a beautiful book to be made into a film.

Rebecca Chapman

I very much enjoyed this gentle, perfectly paced novel. Tom Birkin's recent sadness of war and wounding so shortly followed by the desertion of his wife made him an instantly sympathetic character. I cared about what happened to him. His quiet, steady healing and personal restoration through befriending the village people and restoring a medieval church mural is an easy and encouraging read. It seemed a bit sad that he had to leave Oxgodby but there was a sense of the inevitability (and even "rightness") about his departure.

The characters were all believable and fully contrived, the scenery lovely, the period between wars interesting ... in all it was most satisfying and even, for one accustomed to faster paced modern lifestyle, personally healing. (Great book review above, by the way).


I didn't read the book, but I think that it has been made into a film, with Colin Firth, I do believe--and possibly Kenneth Branagh as well?

Sounds like a lovely read for many people!


Becky's right about the film; but as the two men are both such well known actors now, they distract from the story.

I've read the book twice and each time found myself so aware of the place, the weather, the sounds. One is completely absorbed into the setting which is as strong as any character. A lesson for our time? It seemed that healing might be more possible in that country setting than in a city. How does one repair psychic scars amidst the chaos and noise of urban life? The age of the place, of the church, the art all helped the process.

adele geras

I, too, loved this book. It's some time since I read it and meant to go back and read it again but you know how it is... I agree though with all that's been said about it and Sherry's remark about the snowglobe chimed in with my view. The movie I recall as being wonderful as well....very atmospheric and true to the novel. Carr is a terrifically funny writer, too. And a very interesting bloke altogether. His 'HARPOLE REPORT' is one of the most shrewd and amusing books ever about the teaching profession. Out of print I think but worth seeking out.


I agree with everything said about the gentleness, the wonderful elagaic qualities, and the beautiful, luminous, drawing of character and relationships through memory. But AMITC is not just wistful and inward looking, it is also hilarious! Humour makes the poignancy of the lost love all the sharper of course. I loved the scene were Birkin is gently manipulted into become the preacher at one service, and his terrible attempt in the pulpit. The scene in the piano shop in Ripon is also a corker, when in order to give the piano a run out the little group from the chapel stand around unself-consciously belting out a hymn. Birkin appreciates, and aches for, the sense of belonging that the chapel folk have, whilst still seeing the funny side.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with everyone, as I didn't really enjoy reading it.

The writing was beautiful, and I enjoyed it initially, but after a while I need more than this in a book. I became bored of the quaintness - it was all too ordinary for me.

Perhaps I'll feel differently in 30 years time, but I'm off to read something a bit more exciting!

Lisa W

I loved this little book. The gentle tale and some of the characters will stay with me for a long while. The story of Tom Birkin's emergence from the dark hole of grief rung true to me. It illustrated how work for which there is a passion, as well as the kindness and acceptance of friends, can buoy one up in a time of trouble. The consolation of beauty, be it in art, nature, or people, was also apparent.
Several passages made the story quite palpable. When Tom returned to the empty vicarage is but one example. "...I gripped that knob more firmly and dragged at it again and again so that the bell's sound came hurrying along corridors, round corners, down staircases, echoing and re-echoing, spreading through the dark and empty house like ripples of her laughter. But now I know that it was laughter calling to me from the past - clearly, playfully, yet poignantly sad. It was the worst moment of my life."
A great selection, Karen!


What a joy. I finished the book last night, sadly. Although I felt that part of the book's beauty was its economy, I still wanted more.

I especially loved the description of the summer and how sometimes the summer can almost seem like a place that could go on forever.

This is the first Cornflower recommended book I read. Good start!

Mr Cornflower

I especially enjoyed the sense of place. That part of the rural North Riding is familiar to me - I once lived in Northallerton, home of the cerebral preacher Mr Jagger, nearly forty years ago. There is even a place near Northallerton called Ellerbeck. I found the book overall spare but satisfying.


As soon as I finished I knew I'd have to read it again to savor the beautiful details. I second Mr. Cornflower on the sense of place and of season. A great pick for March when we're all longing for the sun of summer. Thank you for the pick and for having this bookgroup. I would likely have missed this book without the group and that would have been a shame.

Susie Vereker

Sorry to be late on this one.
Yes, I enjoyed re-reading this book - and everyone's thoughtful comments. For me the most vivid parts concerned the Wesleyan station master and his family, and I see that JL Carr was born in Yorkshire, the son of Wesleyan Methodists. Am sure the piano buying and the preaching scene were drawn from life. Maybe that's why Carr wrote the book as if it were a reminiscence.
By the way, I couldn't quite understand why the hero cleaned the mural figure by figure as opposed to square by square, but perhaps there is some kind of metaphor there. Again, apparently Carr himself was involved in a church restoration. I liked the young archaeologist chap too, but the vicar's wife seemed more of a fantasy figure.

Sarah Cuthbertson

Very, very late to this. I read "A Month in the Country" on your recommendation and have just finished reading Byron Rogers' quirky and fascinating biography of the quirky and fascinating J L Carr. If you haven't, I heartily recommend it. It's called "The Last Englishman" and amongst other things it adds tremendously to a reading of "A Month in the Country", partly because there's a whole chapter on Carr's dogged battle against church officials and local government bureaucracy to save a similar "church in the field" near his home in Northamptonshire during the 1960s.

I do enjoy your blog, Karen, but alas I don't get much time to comment.


Thankyou so much for that, Sarah, I shall go and add The Last Englishman to my wishlist now!

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