Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review - The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April is a hundred-plus year old classic novel tells the tale of four English women who are looking for an escape from their lives and decide to take a month-long vacation in an Italian castle...with each other. The women are strangers to one another and come from different walks of life. Two are married and part of the escape is to get away from their husbands and clear their heads. Apart from the initial vacation preparations and character introductions, the entire book takes place in the castle that the four women rent out. They don't go on lavish adventures around the countryside. They don't find mysterious romance with locals. They just enjoy their surroundings and learn about themselves. In our fast-paced adrenaline driven 21st century, the concept may sound terribly boring...and if you go in with that expectation, you'll surely be let down. It is slow paced and lacking in adventure, but from an aesthetic and thoughtful point of view this is an elegant and beautiful piece of work well worth reading. (I understand that there is a movie version as well, but I haven't seen it so I don't know how well it compares)

The initial chapters of the book introduce us to Lotty Wilkins, the woman who has become dissatisfied with her life in London and the humdrum relationship with her husband. She reads and advertisement for an idyllic month among the wisteria at an Italian castle and she's decided that she absolutely must go. Unfortunately, she can't afford the entire rent on her own and she doesn't want to ask her husband for the money. She approaches an acquaintance (Mrs. Arbuthnot) who Lotty feels may be similarly dissatisfied and convinces her that they should rent the place together. They then decide to advertise for an interview two other women to join them and before long the entire plan is set. As an interesting twist by the author, as Lotty prepares to tell her husband about her vacation plans, he announces that he would like to take her on a Italy. This sudden invitation catches her off guard and she nearly changes her mind but then remembers all of the reasons she wants this "girl's month out" and announces that she's committed to this trip and she must go.

We get to know the other two women very briefly through the interview process and then meet them more vividly upon arrival in Italy. Mrs. Fisher is an elderly aristocrat and Lady Caroline is a young socialite and each initially seems somewhat stereotypical. As the four women interact, Lotty Wilkins strives to turn them all into close friends and to help each of them experience all of the wonderful possibilities she believes this trip will offer them. To Lotty's dismay, both Lady Caroline and Mrs. Fisher seem only to want to be left alone.

Lady Caroline (who in her self-reflection is known as "Scrap") is trying to get away from the noise and chaos of life and constant suitors in an effort to be fully introspective and figure out what she wants. Mrs. Fisher wants a certain amount of decorum and respect and really just kind of wants to be alone to indulge in the location. This leaves Lotty to befriend Mrs. Arbuthnot. Within a short time they are on first name basis (Lotty is comfortable much quicker but soon Rose Arbuthnot acquiesces). Lotty takes on a sense of romanticism and love of life that she tries to share with everyone. Little by little she works to wear down the resolve of the other ladies and turn them all into friends.

There are a few revelations and plot surprises that come up so I won't go into detail of everything that happens in Italy. In reality, the main plot elements are less important than the character development and the realizations that each woman comes to about her own character and her views on life and those around her. The novel is filled with thoughtful and insightful introspection as well as great interaction between the characters that transitions them from stereotypical archetypes into more fully fleshed out women. The language and structure of the book is poetic and romantic which serves as a nice framework for the kind of character growth we experience. This is a nice classic that's worth reading.

3 out of 5 stars

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