The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim

The Enchanted April is one of my mum’s favourite films (hi, Mum!), so, because it’s always easy to love something that someone you love loves, I’ve seen it lots and enjoy it every time. Recently, I saw on my Goodreads feed that a friend had recently read the book (hi, Friend!), and I was struck with a full on moment of ‘Duh!! Why have I never done this?!’.

Thankfully, that kind of problem is an easy one to fix. Thanks, Library!

This book is genius. It’s so beautifully written, so gently-paced and evocative, that a book about a holiday in Italy starts to feel like a holiday in Italy in and off itself. I swear, when I put it down I was more relaxed than after an hour and a half of yoga! If you’ve never heard of it, or never seen the film, here’s a short summary:

Two women, known to each other by face but not name, are living in grey, miserable, early twentieth century London, with grey, miserable, early Twentieth century marriages and grey, miserable, early Twentieth century lives. Both of them, in different and distinct ways, are feeling overwhelmed by the drudgery of living the ‘expected’ life, and both of them have reached a hidden fever pitch of quiet desperation. Then, Lottie spots an advertisement in a newspaper – the phrase ‘wisteria and sunshine‘ capturing her imagination – and what’s more, a little while later, she spots Rose spotting the advertisement as well. Moved by the aforementioned quiet desperation, Lottie breaks all the social norms to approach Rose, introduce herself, and make the outlandish and outrageous suggestion that they share the opportunity for wisteria and sunshine together – take a month off, away from their husbands, and go on holiday to a castle in Italy with a woman one hardly knows.

I love this. It might not raise many eyebrows now, (I’m looking at you, Air BnB), but at the time the book is set that was so very much Not The Done Thing. I love the idea of these women taking a risk to change things up, and do something entirely for their own happiness and wellbeing. Mad! Radical! Completely wonderful!

Anyway, Lottie and Rose end up hiring this castle in Italy (for the month of April, funnily enough), and end up advertising for two other women to share the cost of the rent with them (it is a castle, after all, albeit a small one – there’s plenty of space!). These four women – different ages, situations in life, personality types – soak up the solitude and sunshine together, letting themselves unfold and unwind, forging friendships and healing old wounds. Everything, by the end, is a lot less miserable, a lot less grey, and although it’s still early Twentieth century, everyone’s a lot happier about that than they were.

Ultimately, it’s delightful. Although I described the premise as radical, the reading experience isn’t at all – it’s a supremely relaxing novel, but von Arnim’s prose is such that it’s not hard to imagine yourself basking in the Mediterranean sun under the shade of a large wisteria or three. (I had to Google what wisteria looked like. Once I had, I immediately decided that I want seventeen of these things in a garden when I’m a Grown Up™.)

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Check out the Google image search results… MAGICAL FAIRYLAND!

My recommendation? Get thee to Italy and take this book with you. Or at least read the book…. it’s the next best thing.

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