I've read The Enchanted April before, probably 20 years ago, and then again about 6 years ago. It's hard to justice to the delightfulness that is this book in a review. I'll just, briefly, give it a try.
Written during the interwar period, the book has a surprisingly modern feel. The main protagonist, Lotty, is the struggling wife of a solicitor, Mellersh Wilkiins, Lotty is not at all the sort of wife that Mellersh wanted - he wanted someone with the right social skills to help his career along. I spent much of the book wondering what on earth could have possessed Mellersh to marry her given her unsuitability.
We also have Rose Arbuthnot, who is married to an extremely successful author of fictionalized biographies of king's courtesans. Rose is deeply religious, and is bothered by the fact that her husband's financial success has been built on "sin". This somewhat irrational preoccupation, along with either a miscarriage or the death of a very young child, has destroyed the relationship between husband and wife.
The book begins when Lotty sees an advertisement in the newspaper to lease a castle in Italy for the month of April, which is addressed "to those who appreciate wistaria and sunshine..." Lotty and Rose, strangers to one another, are drawn to the advertisement and resolve to take the castle and spend the month of April in Italy. In order to decrease their costs further, they advertise for two additional women to join them.
This book is as effervescent as champagne and as insubstantial as a soap bubble. San Salvatore, the castle, is delightful. The changes that come over the four women as they luxuriate in the gardens overlooking the Mediterranean Sea come at different paces, but they do arrive. Lotty loses her careworn outlook, Rose lightens up, Caroline finds peace, and Mrs. Fischer, the most calcified of the bunch who has spent decades pining for the past, embraces life again.
“All down the stone steps on either side were periwinkles in full flower, and she could now see what it was that had caught at her the night before and brushed, wet and scented, across her face. It was wistaria. Wistaria and sunshine . . . she remembered the advertisement. Here indeed were both in profusion. The wistaria was tumbling over itself in its excess of life, its prodigality of flowering; and where the pergola ended the sun blazed on scarlet geraniums, bushes of them, and nasturtiums in great heaps, and marigolds so brilliant that they seemed to be burning, and red and pink snapdragons, all outdoing each other in bright, fierce colour. The ground behind these flaming things dropped away in terraces to the sea, each terrace a little orchard, where among the olives grew vines on trellises, and fig-trees, and peach-trees, and cherry-trees. The cherry-trees and peach-trees were in blossom--lovely showers of white and deep rose-colour among the trembling delicacy of the olives; the fig-leaves were just big enough to smell of figs, the vine-buds were only beginning to show. And beneath these trees were groups of blue and purple irises, and bushes of lavender, and grey, sharp cactuses, and the grass was thick with dandelions and daisies, and right down at the bottom was the sea. Colour seemed flung down anyhow, anywhere; every sort of colour piled up in heaps, pouring along in rivers....”
This is a perfect book to read in April, when my garden has just started to come back to life.
I have Elizabeth and her German Garden on my TBR cart. It feels like a good time to read it.