In this tantalizingly brief novel of a little over a hundred pages, a shell-shocked World War I veteran, Tom Birkin, recalls the summer he left London for the small northern town of Oxgodby. Birkin lives and works in the town’s church; the building is rumored to be hiding a fourteenth-century wall painting, and his job is to uncover it. He begins each morning by climbing into the church’s dark chancel arch to peel back the layers of soot, dust, and grease to discover what beauty or importance may remain. Birkin’s wartime trauma, manifested in a facial twitch and a stammer, stigmatizes him. But in Oxgodby he can start afresh. Hesitantly, Birkin begins new relationships: from the height of his scaffolding, he accepts the curiosity of a few townspeople—a fellow veteran, a teenage girl, and the reverend’s wife—who come to talk to the strange artist living in the belfry.
(Fiction; Harvester Press, 1980)