I follow a British book club from afar, and one of the current books for discussion is J. L. Carr's A Month in the Country. I tend to enjoy about half of what this book club chooses, and after reading the synopsis for Carr's short novel, I decided to give it a try.
Tom Birkin is the main character, and he tells the reader the story of the summer he spent in Northern England in 1920. Having been heavily affected by WWI, Birkin went up to the small town of Oxgodby to uncover a wall painting in the town's church. A limited premise for a book, I'm sure you think. But in actuality, the book is so lush. Birkin is a phenomenally interesting narrator; he has such interesting thoughts on professionalism (his own, his new friend Moon's, what it means to be a professional at anything), on life in a small country town, and on religion and art. The main action and driving force of the novel may be Birkin's uncovering a religious wall painting, but so much more is uncovered in the process. Before I knew it, I felt as though I had had actual conversations with Birkin--his thoughts are made that plain and conversant to the reader.
Carr's use of language is also extremely interesting. On the one hand, it has moments of seeming a throwback to John Buchan; but at other times, beautiful phrases and profound thoughts seem almost accidentally peppered in otherwise simple scenes and reflections. The whole short novel was a joy to read, but those moments of true mastery make it a gem. I'd suggest this novel to readers who enjoy first-person fictional rememberances, who like stories set in the pre-WWII English countryside, and who may be looking for philosophical ideas to ponder quietly.