31 March, 2013

A Month in the Country by JL Carr (1980)

This is a beautiful little book. Set in 1920, Tom Birkin has returned to England after WWI with a twitch and stammer to find his wife gone, so takes a job up in Yorkshire uncovering a medieval mural in a village church. He strikes up a friendship with a fellow veteran doing archaeological work in the churchyard and slowly integrates into the minutiae of village life, falling in love with the dour vicar's young wife along the way. Carr was almost 70 when he wrote this, and it shows. It feels long-distilled and the ending is wise, understated and magnificent.

15 March, 2013

Max Havelaar by Multatuli (1860)

I almost gave up on this one halfway through, but I'm glad I didn't. Max Havelaar tells the story of a minor Dutch official in colonial Java who becomes outraged at the way the local people are being exploited. It's somewhat autobiographical and while the book shocked Holland and eventually led to reforms, the author suffered the usual whistleblower's fate and died in exile, embittered. As a novel, Max Havelaar is often self-indulgent and you never quite know where it is heading, but it is redeemed by the strength of its message and prose that is passionate, surprisingly fresh, sometimes beautiful and often very funny.