- JL Carr, A Month in the Country
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I cannot recommend Carr's A Month in the Country highly enough. It is a small, quiet book with a love of small, quiet things stitched into each sentence, each character. It tells of a WWI veteran spending a summer in a small Yorkshire village cleaning the ceiling in a church to reveal a medieval painting. It can be read profitably on a Sunday afternoon when the house is quiet enough to read and while you are reading it (for I hope you will take up my recommendation) you will think it a slight thing. You will wait and wait for a big reveal, a dramatic climax and you will be disappointed. And then you will take up the book a second time and you will read it closer, paying attention to the small, quiet things that other writers toss in as filler and dust, and you will see what sort of man JL Carr was and you will wish to your bones that'd you known him, that you could have lived a life to create such a small and quiet thing as this book and know you have done the impossible: halted time, reclaimed love.
* * *
And what of you, my beloved fartlet? What sort of man or woman are you? If any part of you survives from time's corruption, what would that say about you and the way you lived?
The first time I read those two sentences from Carr's beautiful book I put the book down, slammed it shut in fact, and paced the space I think of as my studio for half an hour before I could bear to read another word. I was caught and the directness of the prose made it hurt all the more. Indeed, what sort of man was I? am I? could I yet be?
We fucked fuckers move through our days in ignorance of our true nature, our true value. We stumble and trip over the paths worn smooth and slick by the stampede of feet belonging to those who follow paths and are well-rewarded for it. We want the same. We want the seeming ease, the lack of thought, the unconsidered life because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and we have questions. But that will never do if you want to walk that well-worn, well-defined road. And so we trip where others glide and come to believe we are wrong to the world. We promise our gods fidelity if we could just get a foothold, a seat at the table. Stay at it long enough and it will come to pass as you distance yourself from your self and adopt the standards, mores and masks of the mass and mobs of men.
Welcome, your cubicle is waiting.
You have no worry about any part of you surviving from time's corruption. There is no you to survive in whole or part.
And what makes this worse for us is we know, we know, it could have been different. We know we did it to ourselves.
Why? Why does this happen to us?
Because the true nature and value of our lives eludes us; we mistake external happenings for internal realities.
* * *
Tom Birkin, the restoration expert in Carr's book, tells his story fifty years on from the time he describes. His choices have had their consequences and his memory is no relief from how he chose to live. Rather, his memory is the passage through which he understands what sort of man he came to be.
I ask this sincerely, with kindness and hope for both of us: who the fuck are you?
What part of you will survive from time's corruption? Who will know you lived, how you lived, what causes moved you, what love saved you?
For love, in the end, is the only thing that matters. Did you love your life sufficiently to exhaust it before it ended? Did you love another, if only for the length of a breath, and find someone to give your life, your work to? Did you love the chances you had? If so, then time's corruption is nothing. If not, you are dead where you stand.
* * *
Boom, my love. Boom.