The fraught rail journey home to Exeter from London, Paddington last Thursday, all complicated by a suicide on the line at Ealing was tempered to some extent by a therapeutic read.
I was sitting surrounded by disgruntled, delayed travellers and constant, half heard apologies over the intermittent loudspeaker system "pl...s ac... ... igies ..lay ..is ser.. to ...mouth".This is usually my favourite part of a day spent in The Big Smoke, a taste of the city, a sniff of some big bookshops and then the journey back to the The Valley.
We made the decision to leave London when we married 30 years ago, the bookhound had been born and raised there and though I'm Devonian by birth I had been raised within spitting distance of London since the age of 4.Slowly but inexorably we have embraced and attuned ourselves to rural dwelling to the point where our idea of a holiday is now a week in a city.
I had taken a supply of reading to cope with varied moods, I always do this and was I ever grateful to have packed A Month in the Country by J.L.Carr.
As I opened the book and started to read, the atmosphere just held my imagination hostage and, apart from a moment of inevitable reflection as the train slowed and crawled over the track at Ealing,that was me sorted for the rest of the 3 hour journey.I often visualise souls on journeys when I hear of or witness a death and this must have been a tragically tortured one.
The story within A Month in the Country is well known to all and sundry I'm sure because I would seem to be one of the few that this book has passed by. Interestingly I'd read Penelope Fitzgerald's introduction elsewhere many a time but never made it as far as the book.
War veteran Tom Birkin reflects, almost 60 years later, on the summer of 1920 he spent uncovering a medieval wall painting on the wall of a village church.He sleeps just below the belfry and spends his days high up on the scaffolding inside the church. Meanwhile outside another war veteran, Moon, is digging in the church grounds for some archaeological remains.
There were real and very obvious analogies for me of Tom reaching to the heavens for the healing he was searching for after the grimness of the war and Moon conversely digging in the opposite direction and so much more.It is a reflection on times and loves lost.
"We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever....they've gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass" says Carr's narrator towards the end of his account.
Was there ever a more realistic description of grief in so few words?
Penelope Fitzgerald adds her own thoughts
"The death of the spirit is to lose confidence in one's own independence and to do only what we are expected to do. At the same time, it is a mistake to expect anything specific from life, life will not conform"
She was the wisest of women and J.L.Carr most certainly a writer with the "magic touch to re-enter the imagined past".