The Art of Bottling Nostalgia


I just finished J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country and didn’t like it as much as expected. Part of the problem is the title. I could use a month in the country along about now, raising expectations.

The other problem is the publisher, New York Review Books. NYRB’s paperbacks are pretty products. Typically, the covers are candy. This one’s so-so, but the lineage is there. Thus, picking the book up, I anticipated great things.

I settled for so-so things. But I did find diamonds in this little patch of English rough. Like this poetic chipt toward the end of the book:

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 callings 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,

Sometimes a little stretch like that makes books worth your while, at least on the given day you pick them up. I especially loved this: “…night came on and lighted windows pricked the darkness….” A nice little image, that.

Then we get the day-break, the personification of the corn’s “murmur” and the lovely “warm smell of fields ripe for harvest.” Dreamy, no? And Carr scores points for trying to bottle nostalgia there. Nostalgia’s tricky stuff. It resists being poured and hermetically sealed. At the blink of an eye, it transforms into a noble gas and disappears.

“A” for effort, then. If not a month, at least a day in the country was sweet. A fleeting thing. The best kind….