Sunday 18 March 2018

Different countries

I read 'A Month in the Country' by J.L. Carr many years ago when I joined a book group in Stow on the Wold. Mum sent it to me for Christmas so I read it again. It is the most exquisitely lovely book, about how quiet can sooth the troubled soul. Set in the aftermath of the First World War Tom Birkin travels to a fictional Yorkshire village to uncover a medieval church mural, and there finds both individuals and a community that reaffirm the meaning of life after his dehumanising experiences in the trenches. It is an intensely nostalgic book, but then maybe books set in summer often are. At around a hundred pages it would always be a couple of hours well spent. Here, a random quote, because any passage would do:

"It must have been nine or ten days before Mrs Keach (the Vicar's wife) visited. I didn't work to set meal-times and came down the ladder when I was hungry. And, in the middle of those hot August days, I usually cut two rough rounds of loaf and a wedge of Wensleydale and took it outside to eat. On Saturdays and Sundays, I had a bottle of pale ale; weekdays, water.
It was so hot the day she came that the grey cat let me approach almost to within touch before it slipped off Elijah Fletcher's box tomb into the rank grass and then into its bramble patch. It was here, above Elijah, that I normally sat and ate, looking across to Moon's camp, letting summer soak into me - the smell of summer and summer sounds. Already I felt part of it all, not a looker-on like some casual visitor. I should like to have believed that men working out in the fields looked up and, seeing me there, acknowledged that I'd become part of the landscape, 'that painter chap, doing a job, earning his keep.'
So I nudged back my bum and lay flat on the stone table, covered my eyes with a khaki handkerchief and, doubtlessly groaning gently, dropped off into a deep sleep. When I awoke, she was leaning against the grey limestone wall looking towards me. She was wearing a dusky pink dress." (p.30)

Visiting my sister a couple of weeks ago I usually get an audiobook for the train and our new local library in Hulme did not have much of a selection. I came away with 'The Sister's Brothers' by Patrick Dewitt that was shortlisted for the Booker a few years ago, and not a title I would have gone out of my way to read. It turned out to be a most engaging tale, in spite of the random casual violence. Narrated by Eli Sisters, one of a pair of hired killers, it tells the story of their travels across America to California during the Gold Rush, and also, via his diary, the story of the man they are going there to kill. While I did enjoy the picture it painted of the place and the era, it was my attachment to Eli that kept my listening, taking the book to work after I got back because I wanted to know what became of them. He has trailed all his life after his admired older brother Charlie, but somehow he yearns for a different, more settled life, promising himself each time that this will be the last job. The people they meet along the way, the crying man, the lady accountant, his rather pathetic horse Tub, and then Hermann (their intended victim) himself, and the consequences of choices they make, all compound to make a different future not only possible but inevitable. No quote because I had to return it, but I would certainly recommend it. Having had mixed feelings about 'All the Pretty Horses' I had been somewhat put off this genre of narrative so I am glad I gave it another chance. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved The Sisters Brothers but I've never been able to convince anyone else to read it because of the setting. It's off-putting - but the book itself is an unexpected delight! (Except for poor Tub. That sad, sad creature.)


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