06 April 2012
Book Review: The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim
Of course, she was right. Because she knows me well enough to know what is, and isn't, my kind of book. I'll admit to being initially worried that The Enchanted April would have far too close a resemblance to a Disney film, but as it turns out Elizabeth von Arnim knows where to insert a note of irony to keep things amusing, not to mention realistic. I managed to read about 75% of this book in airports because I couldn't put it down. And I should point out that I'm not much of an airport reader and usually do more magazine reading than anything else.
So much about this story surprised me. It starts out on a rainy day in England when two women read the same advertisement in the newspaper. The advertisement offers a "medieval castle" in Italy, and both women are immediately fascinated. One woman, Mrs Wilkins, realizes that she knows the other woman, Mrs Arbuthnot, and when she sees that Mrs Arbuthnot is equally intrigued by the advertisement she approaches her. It starts out more as an idea, or just an inkling of an idea. But within minutes the usually shy and awkward Mrs Wilkins is caught up in the idea and trying to persuade Mrs Arbuthnot to join her. So the inkling grows into something more, and before either realizes what's happening they've both agreed to find out more about the medieval castle and to see if it's even an option for them.
It's hard to blame the two women for being so keen, since their lives are hardly wonderful at the moment. Mr Wilkins is a rather self-absorbed solicitor who basically keeps his wife around because it "looks good." Mr Arbuthnot, much to his wife's horror, writes stories about the mistresses of kings. (Mrs Arbuthnot is a rather religious woman.) Both couples have more or less drifted apart, and it won't come as much of a surprise that neither woman plans to take her husband. They do advertise for two other female companions and find the perfect one, in the forms of the elderly Mrs Fisher and the very (very, very, very) beautiful Lady Caroline Dester.
So off they all go, to San Salvatore in Italy. From the moment that they arrive, Mrs Wilkins is convinced the place has something magical about it, and it turns out she's right. But unlike other "happy-feely, lovey-dovey" stories, The Enchanted April keeps things a little dry and smooths out the cotton candy with a prickly glove. I suspect the writer had quite a good time writing the book. That being said, there's a fairly happy ending here, but it happens in a way that kept me from delivering a massive eyeroll. It was fun, clever, and overall just one hugely enjoyable read.
There's still plenty of time in April -- so give this one a chance if you can squeeze it in :)
Year of publication: 1921
Number of pages: 247