The Enchanted April

book club, Elizabeth von ArnimFor April, our book group read The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. It was my pick, based on a recommendation by Kathy, who has impeccable taste in old books. I don’t know if it was the fact that we read it just as spring started to creep into Chicago or that being home from Japan has made me want to travel again, but I looooooved reading this book. It made me crave spring and flowers and sunshine in the worst way, but I loved it.

The story of The Enchanted April is based around four women from London who rent an Italian castle for the month of April. The women are not friends, in fact, they are strangers, and have very different ideas for their vacations in Italy. Two are in kind of sad marriages and are looking forward to getting away from their husbands for a bit. And two are single, one is an attractive young woman who wants to get away from her admirers and the other is a cranky widow. Each woman goes through a transformation during her stay in the castle, coming into her own out of the shadow of the life in London. The Enchanted April is not an action-packed book, but the story moves quickly and the writing is both beautiful and funny at the same time.

Do you want to hear some of my favorite parts? This first passage comes when Mrs. Fisher (the widow) is served macaroni at lunch:

…Mrs. Fisher had never cared for macaroni, especially this long, worm-shaped variety. She found it difficult to eat–slippery, wriggling off her fork, making her look, she felt, undignified when, having got it as she supposed into her mouth, ends of it yet hung out. Always, too, when she ate it she was reminded of Mr. Fisher. He had during their married life behaved very much like macaroni. He had slipped, he had wriggled, he had made her feel undignified, and when at last she had got him safe, as she thought, there had invariably been little bits of him that still, as it were, hung out.

And, when Mrs. Fisher tries to find out what Rose’s husband does for a living:

“Who is your husband?” Asked Mrs. Fisher, carefully adjusting another nut between the crackers.

“Who should he be,” said Rose quickly, aroused at once by Mrs. Fisher’s to irritation, “except Mr. Arbuthnot?”

“I mean, of course, what is Mr. Arbuthnot?”

And Rose, gone painfully red at this, said after a tiny pause, “My husband.”

Naturally Mrs. Fisher was incensed. She couldn’t have believed it of this one, with her decent hair and gentle voice, that she too should be impertinent.

And, when Rose, who is deeply conservative and religious, is getting dressed:

She dressed with care, though she knew Mr. Briggs would no longer see her, but it gave her pleasure to see how pretty, while she was about it, she could make herself look; and very nearly she stuck a crimson camellia in her hair down by her ear. She did hold it there for a minute, and it looked almost sinfully attractive and was exactly the color of her mouth, but she took it out again with a smile and a sigh and put it in the proper place for flowers, which is water. She mustn’t be silly, she thought. Think of the poor. Soon she would be back with them again, and what would a camellia behind her ear seem like then? Simply fantastic.

The Enchanted April was a perfect spring read, and I highly recommend it as a great, light garden read. Perfect with a cup of tea.

In May we are reading Call It Sleep by Henry Roth. I imagine it will be sliiiightly darker and heavier. I’ll let you know.

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