Written by J.L. Carr
New York Review Books, 2000; 135 pages
Originally published 1980
Ah, those days...for many years afterwards their happiness haunted me. Sometimes, listening to music, I drift back and nothing has changed. The long end of summer. Day after day of warm weather, voices calling as night came on and lighted windows pricked the darkness and, at day-break, the murmur of corn and the warm smell of fields ripe for harvest. And being young.
If I'd stayed there, would I always have been happy? No, I suppose not. People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvelous thing around each corner fades. It is now or never; we must snatch at happiness as it flies. (pp. 103-104)
This one has been on my TBR list ever since the late 1980s when I saw the film based on the book. Have to say, I don't really remember all that much about the movie now, but I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. It's the story of a couple of months in the life of WWI veteran Tom Birkin who comes to the small English village of Oxgodby in the summer of 1920 to restore a Medieval mural newly-discovered on the walls of the village church.
Birkin lives in the bell tower and spends each day uncovering the anonymous painter's splendid work. He also meets the Vicar and his wife, as well as the people of the village, and very rapidly becomes part of their lives. And he's befriended by archaeologist Charles Moon, who's established a solitary dig nearby to search for an ancient burial site. The summer glides by, and Birkin finds his spirit and hope for the future restored, along with the wall painting he's bringing back to life.
The book is very short, a novella really -- I read it in an afternoon -- but it packs a real emotional impact, and does it quietly and with amazing subtlety. Just a wonderful little book.