‘The Enchanted April’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

My rating: 4 stars

In the hands of other authors, The Enchanted April could have been a fiasco. Elizabeth Von Arnim, however, managed to turn a very simple plot into a pleasant book, whose most valuable asset is a subtle ironic tone. Set in a place that has almost magical properties, this is a story about the restoring power of holidays and how four women start to look at their lives differently after less than a month in Italy.

On a February afternoon, Mrs Wilkins was at a woman’s club reading a newspaper when an advertisement about a small medieval castle for rent during the month of April in Italy caught her attention. She started daydreaming about the possibility of going there. When she was about to leave the club, she saw Mrs Arbuthnot, whom she had never spoken to before, but whom she was aware of because of her work with the poor. She decided to speak with her about the advertisement, as she was also reading the newspaper, and try to convince her that they should rent the place. How wonderful would it be to spend some time there? It would improve their boring lives and they could be happy for a while.

Mrs Arbuthnot ended up agreeing on sending a letter asking for further details about the castle, although she tried to hide, even from herself, how keen she was to go to Italy. Their main interest was the price. As the rent was much higher than they expected, they decided to put an advertisement on the same newspaper to find other two companions. Lady Caroline and Mrs Fisher were the only two applicants for joining them.

When April was about to start, they made their way to Italy. Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot were expecting to be the first to get to San Salvatore. However, when they woke up the morning after their arrival, Lady Caroline and Mrs Fisher were already there. They were disappointed, since they expected to be the hostesses, but nothing could ruin their time at such a beautiful place.

The four women have different personalities and reasons for wanting to go abroad. While Mrs Wilkins was eager to spend some time away from her husband, Mrs Arbuthnot was sad that hers didn’t pay as much attention to her as he used to at the beginning of their marriage. Mr Arbuthnot wrote books about the mistresses of royalty, while she helped the poor and was very religious. Lady Caroline wanted to spend some time alone. She was used to having her beauty appreciated and being admired in general, but wanted a change from that. Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot remarked on her beauty as soon as they first saw her in San Salvatore, though. Mrs Fisher seemed to look down on them. She is conservative and somewhat resentful. Did a new location help change them and their lives?

San Salvatore and its natural scenery play an important part in the story, as if it were a magical place characteristic from a fairy tale. For that reason, The Enchanted April is full of evocative descriptions.

“She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty, and she 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.”

Although the plot is not sublime, the irony, the casually humorous tone and the type of narration make the book compelling. They are also used to criticise the characters’ behaviour without seeming to. The third-person narrator embodies the perspectives of various characters, depending on whom is being focused on, which allows a proximity to the characters without their emotions being dissected in full.

Elizabeth Von Arnim penned a book that will make readers want to visit Italy, thanks to magical descriptions. The plot is not outstanding, but its simplicity is not a hindrance either.

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