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chesilbeach

J L Carr

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This year, I'm embarking on a challenge to read all the novels written by the English author, J L Carr.  I was first introduced to him by my partner, whose favourite book of all time is A Month in the Country.  I read this years ago and loved it, and had always intended to read more but had never quite got around to it.
 
He wrote eight novels, published by six different publishers, with his last two novels being published under his own imprint.  He was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980 for A Month in the Country, and again in 1985 for The Battle of Pollocks Crossing.  He also wrote children's language books and a variety of dictionaries and non-fiction books.

The eight novels are:


1. A Day in Summer (1964)
2. A Season in Sinji (1967)
3. The Harpole Report (1972)
4. How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The F. A. Cup (1975)
5. A Month in the Country (1980)
6. The Battle of Pollocks Crossing (1985)
7. What Hetty Did (1988)
8. Harpole and Foxberrow, General Publishers (1992)
 
There is also a biography of Carr I'm interested in reading, The Last Englishman: The Life of J. L. Carr by Byron Rogers
 
Rather than open a separate thread for each book as I read it, I thought I'd set up a single thread for the author, and will add my reviews as I read the books.

Edited by chesilbeach

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How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The F. A. Cup by J. L. Carr

 

Synopsis: (from amazon.co.uk)

This classic humour novel chronicles the momentous journey of Steeple Sinderby (an unremarkable Fenland village) from the mire of obscurity to national heroics. This unbelievable feat is contrived by the serendipitous meeting of three great men: Mr Fangfoss (who cares nothing for football), Dr Kossuth - a Hungarian academic and headmaster of the village school, and the Wanderers captain Alex Slingsby, a mighty warrior biding his time in quiet Sinderby for the chance to rise once more. The story takes an affectionate look at small-minded Middle England, and the glories of God's own game while taking in love and death, bigotry, bigamy and good old-fashioned English snobbery.

 

Review:

Considering the title, this book actually has very little football in it, but is essentially an affectionate look at ordinary people, and the remarkable things that can be achieved with focus, determination and a bit of luck, and a story of the under estimated underdog.  Set in the 1970s, there is a genuine believability about this fantastical tale of a village football team winning the F. A. Cup, with a spirit of sportsmanship and honesty, a larger than life chairman and an ex-pro captain, and the analytical vision of the local headmaster.  There is reference to some of the issues surrounding football in the period, with the health and safety of grounds, hooliganism, and even the role of the media, which is still prescient today.

 

Even if you're not a football fan, there is plenty to entertain and delight, and even moments of poignancy, with one event even bringing a tear to my eye at one point.  Wonderful - an absolute joy to read.

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Chesil, I read and loved A Month In The Country too, but have always been unable to find anything else by him. I've just discovered his biography, The Last Englishman, is available on Kindle so I've put it on my wishlist. It said in the synopsis that he was one of the funniest English writers of all time. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading them all (I'm jealous :D )

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I'm about 100 pages into his biography he certainly was eccentric & there's quite a few funny anecdotes that made me laugh. I intend to read his other books as well so i look forward to reading your reviews Claire  :smile:

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I don't know how I missed this thread until now, but only spotted this today.

 

I'm a passionate fan of JL Carr's writing: I've read most of his novels and the Byron Rogers biography, which only confirmed his status in my eyes!  Like your partner, Claire, A Month in the Country is my all-time favourite novel.  Close behind though is The Harpole Report which, whilst a little dated now, is still one of the few books that I find genuinely funny (it was Frank Muir's Desert Island book, which is partly what introduced me to Carr in the first place).  Speaking as a primary teacher, his take on primary schools is oh so painfully accurate!  But then it would be, given his experience as a headteacher.

 

I think that's one of his strengths: his books very much pull on his very varied experiences.  And whilst there is a lot of light humour in them, there is also real passion there for the underlying themes, such as the politicisation of education. 

 

Loved your review of Steeple Sinderby, and looking forward to your others.  Enjoy!!

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Thanks, willoyd. :)

 

We've been round all the bookshelves in the house collecting all the various editions so that I have them all in one place to read! :D

 

post-4870-0-67697600-1369238183_thumb.jpg

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I haven't heard of this author before, but his novels sound quite different! I may have to put one on the wishlist :P. Any you recommend I start with (keeping in mind I don't know tons about British history, only some of it)?

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I haven't heard of this author before, but his novels sound quite different! I may have to put one on the wishlist :P. Any you recommend I start with (keeping in mind I don't know tons about British history, only some of it)?

 

Any will do - they weren't written to be read in any particular order, although some characters do crop up in more than one book (to that extent, I'd probably read The Harpole Report before reading Harpole and FoxberrowWhat Hetty Did Next and, to a much lesser extent, Steeple Sinderby, and possibly Pollock's Crossing??  But I didn't read them in any particular order, and it didn't make any difference really).  I think probably the best would be A Month in the Country: it's the most readily available, stands on its own, and is a beautiful read (none of his are exactly long!). 

 

You don't need any understanding of British history really, although they are quintessentially English in style and humour (at least, IMO!).  The Battle of Pollock's Crossing is set in the Midwest - where Carr himself spent some time on an exchange just as the main character did.

 

We've been round all the bookshelves in the house collecting all the various editions so that I have them all in one place to read! :D

 

I've got a lovely edition of A Month in the Country, published by The Folio Society.  They can still regularly be picked up cheap second-hand for the price of a paperback.  Otherwise, all my copies are from The Quince Tree Press, the publishing 'house' set up by Carr and now run by his son, from home.  These include Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary Cricketers - a  little hardback that is in itself a rather quirky collation of entries! 

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The bottom five books in the photo are all from The Quince Tree Press books, and apparently we have a copy of Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary Cricketers, but it's proving elusive at the moment!

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The bottom five books in the photo are all from The Quince Tree Press books, and apparently we have a copy of Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary Cricketers, but it's proving elusive at the moment!

 

So they are!  I know it sounds stupid, but I didn't spot the photo till you mentioned it!

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I've got A Month in the Country and re-read this on occasion as it is beautiful and haunting.  I'm interested in more of his stuff too.  Thanks for starting this Claire.

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A Season in Sinji by J. L. Carr

Synopsis: (from the back cover)
It was in Budmouth that Wakerly, Turton and Flanders all fell in love with Caroline.

It is in Sinji, West Africa, that the three rivals meet again on a flying-boat station. Caroline has married smoothly arrogant Turton; and now in possession of a shiny new commission, Turton takes every opportunity to make life unbearable for Aircraftsmen Wakerly and Flanders.

The sun beats down on the mounting tensions, and even the smoothing formalities of cricket cannot hide - or prevent - the tragedy.

Review:
I was told this book was a great cricket book, and funny, and while it was both of those, it was so much more too. It's about friendship, rivalry, love, loss and war. The early part of the book is set in England, with the three protagonists awaiting posting, and sampling the local hostelries. There are some lovely little snippets and observations during this part of the book, and one of the comic gems is in the verse that Wakerly writes about each of the pubs they frequent:

 

At Coulter's Ash avoid The Bell:
They've joined the beer tap to the well

 

Their posting eventually comes through, and after a dreadful voyage via ship they make it to Sinji in West Africa, and the cricket story starts. What I love about Carr's story is that while there is an entertaining (and knowledgable) cricketing yarn, he also addresses the subject of war for those not serving on the front line. This paragraph perfectly summed it up for me:

 

If you're thinking, What about The War against Nazi Tyranny all this time? well, there at Sinji, it seemed far away and somebody else's business. You have to remember that, for most servicemen, War was only brief spells of intense effort or fear lost in a yawning wilderness of boredom. And we coped with our boredom in our different ways. With the little soldier at Blackfen and with thousands more like him, it was woman, with others - beer, with me - cricket.

 

Alongside the building tension of the cricket matches, there are also brief snatches of danger in surveillance missions, as well as the ongoing bullying among the ranks. The final paragraph is just gut wrenching to read, and as the realisation of what has happened comes to Flanders, it leaves the reader questioning what they would have done in the same situation.

You definitely don't need to know anything about cricket to be able to enjoy this book, but if you are a fan, then it will add another dimension to the story for you. An absolute joy to read.

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I had totally forgotten this author, so nice to make a note of him and start reading his books. Like a lot of people I had only read A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Didn't they make a film of this too for tv? Think I will look for THE HARPOLE REPORT too.

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Yes, there is a film (not a TV one though, a proper cinema released version) with Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson, and it's wonderful too. I'd highly recommend it! :smile2:

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I was quite surprised to see how much interest there is in J L Carr and particularly AMITC.  I am writing a dissertation on my best loved book, A Month in the Country for an English Literature degree.  Probably going to cover Gender, Sexuality and Culture, and a section on J L Carr.

I have just finished reading The Last Englishman by Byron Rogers, a biography of J L Carr which reveals more of his eccentricities than the novels do.

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The Harpole Report by J. L. Carr
 
Synopsis: (from The Quince Tree Press website)
George Harpole, acting head of a primary school, is determined to climb the career ladder.  The way ahead to teaching success seems clear, but he is hampered by his honesty, fair mindedness, and his fellow teachers.  The hugely comic tale unfolds through a series of school logs, notes, letters and memos.
 
Review:
Has there ever been a time when education and teachers haven't been a political issue?  Reading this book felt like it was not only a blast from the past of the British education system, but also at times, very pertinent to some of the reports I read about teaching today.  From the very opening, you know things aren't going to go well for our hero, and he faces petty bureaucracy, teachers who are resistant to change, challenging pupils plus a difficult caretaker throughout the course of the story.
 
I loved the style of the book using all sorts of written evidence to tell the tale, and you feel the frustration building within and the shoulders falling of George as the full story reveals itself.  I adored Emma Foxberrow, the young, progressive teacher of the school - such a strong female individual, who again, is developed brilliantly through the story, and brings a lightness and hope against the apathy of some of other teachers.
 
I'm not sure this book has totally stood the test of time, feeling a bit dated at times, but on the whole it is another comic gem from Carr, and is a great way to look at how times have changed (or not, in some cases) in education.  Very readable, and very enjoyable - another great book from Carr.

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The first JL Carr I ever read, many years ago, was A Day In Summer, picked up on a whim from a second-hand bookshop. I just love the slow, detailed, thoughtfulness of his writing and have reread that and A Month In The Country several times

 I have also read  How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The F.A. Cup, and laughed so much that Mr Meg borrowed it, to see what had appealed so much to someone who avoids football at every opportunity. He loved it, too, but A Day In Summer remains my favourite

 

 

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