From: the public library
In a nutshell: Two lonely Londoner housewives, Lottie and Rose meet each other after reading a classified ad about an Italian castle for rent in the month of April. They discover a shared dream of vacationing on the coast of Italy. To share the cost of renting the castle, they advertise for two more female renters. Beautiful young Lady Caroline Dester and the elderly widow Mrs. Fisher respond to the advertisement. Each woman has her own reasons for renting the castle and for escaping their lives in London – and in the case of Rose and Lottie – escaping their husbands as well.
I picked this book up because I’d heard good things about the author’s writing and about this book in particular. I’m not sure the plot would have drawn me in on its own. The introduction by Terence de Vere White mentions a “a flurry of contrivance” in some of the plot developments. And certainly, once the husbands, and the castle owner, start showing up in The Enchanted April, there is an element of contrivance in that. I think I forgive contrivance more in older books than in more recent books, perhaps a kind of snobbishness on my part?
My favorite section of the book starts at the arrival of the women to Italy up until the first husband arrives to visit. I enjoyed the other parts too, but I think von Arnim’s insight into her characters’ minds is best showcased when the characters are becoming acquainted with each other and the castle. Almost all of them are in reflective moods.
I identified with Lottie’s rapture on her first day in Italy. She absolutely luxuriates in the beauty of the location. It reminded me of the energy and wonder I felt on the first day of my vacation to San Francisco last year. After all the planning, I was finally there experiencing it.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I also identified with Lady Caroline Dester’s reflection:
Once more she had that really rather disgusting suspicion that her life till now had not only been loud but empty. Well, if that were so, and if her first twenty-eight years – the best ones – had gone just in meaningless noise, she had better stop a moment and look round her; pause, as they said in tiresome novels, and consider. She hadn’t got many sets of twenty-eight years.
I am about the same age as Caroline, and while I haven’t thought of my life as completely “meaningless noise”, I do sometimes wonder if I should have done it differently.
I liked von Arnim best when she was describing the characters and their situations. I know the author loved gardens and flowers, but as I have little knowledge about flowers, her descriptions of the castle’s gardens were kind of dull for me. They just seemed to be name after name of flower type, and I didn’t find it evocative. One exception is that I thought the book’s last description of the castle worked very well, because of its emphasis on the characters’ absence.
That’s about all the thoughts of The Enchanted April. I had a hard time writing this one for some reason, so I’m glad I’ve finally finished this post, even if I don’t feel fully satisfied with it.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
Rikki’s Teleidoscope – “Read this story if you are down and you will feel happy when you finish it. Read it when you’re happy and you will be happier still.”
She Reads Novels – “I hadn’t expected something so readable and full of gentle humour and wit and yet with so much depth and such a lot of character development.”
things mean a lot – “This is one of those rare books that are always on the verge of becoming too charming and sweet, but somehow never do – they manage to keep the balance.”