Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Enchanted by April in August


I read The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim aptly in April and was thoroughly enchanted by it. I have waited until now to review it because I didn't want to until I had watched the film adaptation. I have now watched it and again have been enchanted by April in August.

The novel concerns one enchanting and life-changing April that four women, strangers, spend together in a castle in Italy. Two of the women, Lotty Wilkins and Rose Arbuthnot, both dissatisfied, childless housewives, meet and connect at their ladies' club over an adverisement in The Times:

To Those who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine. Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.

On a wet and dismal day in London Lotty and Rose bond over their mutual desire to escape on a wonderful holiday. To offset their indulgence and protect Lotty's nest-egg they decide to advertise for two more women to join them to share the cost and are joined by Mrs Fisher, a waspish, older lady whose friends are dead writers, and Lady Caroline Dester, a socialite attempting to escape the grabbing hands of men. All of the women seek a respite and sancturary in the sun but instead are enchanted by the magic of San Salvatore; the month spent on the Italian Riviera is revelatory and life-changing for the visitors.

San Salvatore, Lotty would say, San Salvatore working its spell of happiness. She could quite believe in its spell. Even she was happier there than she had been for ages and ages.


Evocative of Italy and of Spring The Enchanted April is a delightful read; it is gentle and quiet and beautiful. It is not all pretty flowers and charming women, however, but contains several moments of witty observation:

'But there are no men here,' said Mrs. Wilkins, 'so how can it be improper?' Have you noticed,' she inquired of Mrs. Fisher, who endeavoured to pretend she did not hear, 'how difficult it is to be improper without men?'

Several of the exchanges between the women, especially between Lotty and Mrs Fisher, are highly amusing and when Mr Wilkins and Mr Arbuthnot arrive (after their wives invite them) there is high comedy, especially when Mellersh takes a bath.

If you are looking for a light but thoroughly engaging and enjoyable book then I recommend this one; it really is lovely and enchanting. I was so enraptured by it in April that I immediately tracked down a few more copies of Elizabeth von Arnim books, all Virago Modern Classics, to read and I still look forward to doing so.

I also recommend the adpatation which is directed by Mike Newell and has a stellar cast of Joan Plowright (nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for her role as Mrs Fisher); Miranda Richardson; Josie Lawrence; Polly Walker; Alfred Molina; Jim Broadbent; and Michael Kitchen. It is curious how characters onscreen can often fit or change your perception of them in the book; I wasn't sure of Josie Lawrence in the role of Lotty when I recognised her on my cover (I am not a fan of film tie-in covers for the most part but this one doesn't offend me too much) but her humour carries off the eccentric but very sweet Lotty. Moreover I was more sympathetic of Mellersh, Lotty's husband (played by Alfred Molina), in the film as he came across as less domineering in the end and quite tender towards his wife; Jim Broadbent played the part of Frederick Arbuthnot to perfection and I found him far more obnoxious in the flesh than in prose, perhaps because his round, red face was visible and not imagined.

The representation onscreen is imbued with beauty in the colour and flowers and peace and implied fragrance described wonderfully in the novel, in stark contrast to the dark, dismal London of earlier scenes. The castle where the adaptation was filmed is Portofino, a castle Elizabeth von Arnim rented one April in the twenties to write "a happy book" and where she decided to set it as the scenery was begging to be described.

She jumped up ... and threw open the shutters.
'Oh!' cried Mrs Wilkins.
All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet. The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring. Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in colour, were asleep to it the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of the castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose colours of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.
She stared. Such beauty; and she was there to see it. Such beauty; and she was alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair.



24 comments:

savidgereads said...

This does indeed sound like a book you could be enchanted by all year round. Sounds delightful.

Rachel said...

I love this book! You summed it up perfectly, and the quotes you picked out really show its spirit. I reviewed it too a couple of months ago. The film sounds like its a good adaptation and I am desperate to watch it but the DVD seems to be quite expensive so I might see if the library has it.

verity said...

That sounds fantastic, I am really looking forward to reading it. You're such a good reviewer. It sounds like the film is really good too (my colleague claims it isn't, and so thus refused to buy it for our collection), with such a stellar cast.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, it really is enchanting all-year round but reading it in the first bloom of Spring back in April was quite special.

Rachel, it's fabulous, isn't it? Have you read any more Elizabeth von Arnim?
The DVD was only released a few months ago so hopefully it will come down in price if the library doesn't have it.

Verity, thank you :). I hope you enjoy it and look forward to you tackling Elizabeth von Arnim for VVV. How disappointing that it hasn't been bought for your collection; I thought the adaptation was very well done, if a little melodramatic in places.

farmlanebooks said...

I think I've got a copy of this book somewhere - I'll have to remember to dig it out sometime soon.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, I'd definitely recommend looking it out. It's been mentioned a lot in the blogosphere recently so it prompted me to finally watch the film version.

JoAnn said...

The movie arrived from Netflix a few days ago... can't wait to watch it! So glad to her it's well done. And I loved the book, too!

Paperback Reader said...

JoAnn, I'm glad you loved it too! I'm interested what you think of the movie seeing as the book is so fresh in your mind. They omitted some of it and changed a little bit but not so much that it made a difference.
Mrs Fisher annoyed me in the novel for the most part but Joan Plowright played her so well and I really appreciated her humour (the facial expressions are great).

Darlene said...

I read this book years and years ago and must revisit it at some point. The movie was delightful, I would watch anything with Joan Plowright in the cast.

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, I think it will become comfort read that I revisit over the years; it's such a feel-good book and movie.

Bloomsbury Bell said...

This sounds perfect - I must immediately find a copy to read. Great review, thanks.

Paperback Reader said...

You're welcome, Bloomsbury Bell :). I hope you like it when you do read it. It should be relatively easy to find a copy either new or secondhand or in the library.

Carl V. said...

I am in the library queue to get the DVD to watch. I was so glad that it finally came out on DVD a year or so ago, it took forever for that to happen. I've been having friends tell me about this movie for years but could no longer track down a video copy because places just don't rent them anymore.

Nymeth said...

Lovely review, Claire! I really can't leave this on my tbr pile for much longer, can I? And I must see if I can get my hands on the film also.

Paperback Reader said...

Carl, it did take an inordinate amount of time to be released. I watched a dreadful copy that I think had been taped from Bravo TV and put onto TV! It hurt my eyes but it was great to watch it.

Ana, NO, you can't ;). I'm curious what you'll think of it although it's so lovely I can't imagine anyone not liking it...

Green Road said...

That's a lovely review. It makes the book sound very, em, enchanting. It's good you like the film too. Usually books like these are very hard to translate onto the screen

Paperback Reader said...

Swati, it is indeed enchanting! I used the word a few times in the post because it is the best way of describing it.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

This sounds interesting. I'm not a big fan of movie adaptations, but now I really want to read the book/watch the movie, and be 'enchanted'.

claire said...

Oh this sounds soo good. Elizabeth von Arnim is one author I have never heard of until maybe a couple of months ago, from you bloggers. Will check this at The Book Depository and save on my wishlist!

Paperback Reader said...

anothercookie, I found it really magical and just ... lovely. I think some movie adaptations really work and this one did (it's one where apparently the movie is just as famous -independently- as the book).

Claire, it's funny how you can be oblivious to an author and then they are brought to your attention in several places more or less at once. I hope you enjoy this once it moves from wishlist to basket to book pile!

claire said...

I'm seriously thinking of putting it onto the basket soon, after I've whittled down the tbr at home a bit. Saw another von Arnim book that intrigued me: Vera. Do you plan to read it?

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, I plan to read all of her novels at some point and apparently Vera is her best. I look forwarding to you reading her too.

StuckInABook said...

I loved this book, but haven't managed to track down the film cheaply yet... will have to do so before long.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I'm sure it will lessen in price later in the year or perhaps you could rent or borrow it from your library? I'm interested to find how you think they compare.