The Next Chapter·Dog-Eared Reads

Why Dave Carley reads the same book every year

The playwright discusses the personal relevance of the historical fiction novel A Month in the Country.
Playwritght Dave Carley believes A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr sheds light on the power of art. (Stephanie Hanna/NYRB Classics)

Playwright Dave Carley writes about anxiety. His plays, like Twelve Hours, feature restless characters eager to awaken to a different life. They have appeared on international stages and earned him a place among the finalists for the 1992 Governor General's Literary Award for Drama. To begin each year with renewed energy, Carley revisits the English novel A Month in the Country.

A therapeutic book

"Every year, I have a little ritual that I perform on January 1 — I read the 1980 novel A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr. The novel is set just after the First World War and a young veteran named Tom Birkin, who is badly damaged in the conflict, arrives in a Yorkshire village. He's commissioned to restore a medieval mural in the village church. As he carefully strips away the centuries of plaster, a mural does in fact, appear. As Birkin works away at the restoration over the summer months, the layers of war damage on his own body and soul also begin to peel away. By the end of the year, I need this kind of tonic for my own spirit." 

Inspired by art

"To me, A Month in the Country is so big-hearted, it has such unforgettable characters and paints such a gorgeous, big mural for you. It is a serene meditation on the power of great art to repair the human spirit. What I get from it is a psychic energy that propels me into the new year with some targets and with an understanding of what great literature can be and do — and hopefully I can emulate that."

Dave Carley's comments have been edited and condensed.