Truly enchanting

I loved The enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, a cousin of the New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield. It is a truly enchanting read, guaranteed to warm the cockles of the hardest of hearts. And, although it may be to a great extent forgotten now, it is the ancestor of any of those "Woman goes to France-Italy-Mongolia and finds herself" books. Yes, it is a bit sloppily romantic, but by the time you're halfway through, you're so caught up in the enchantment yourself that you really don't care.

On a drab day in February, a bored housewife in 1920's London, Mrs. Wilkins, spots an advert in the classified section of her newspaper - a castle to rent in Italy for April. Seeing a fellow lost soul, Mrs. Arbuthnot, she suggests that they should rent the castle between them. Needing some more money they soon enlist two more strangers, the elderly dragon - Mrs. Fisher, and Scrap, who was debutante of the year.

The four disparate characters gather together in the heart of Italy, not expecting anything much other than a pleasant break. But soon, the magic of the place and the time start working on them, and their souls are healed as they adapt to the landscape. They cease to be just appendages of their husband or parents - "Mrs. This", "Lady-That", and are revealed as exuberant characters in their own right.

To modern sensibilities it sounds rather prosaic. A story that has been told in one form or another time and time again. But von Arnim tells it with such joy, detail, and humour, that it's hard not to be moved by it, or want to be embraced by the friendship that develops between the 4 women.

It's a truly delightful tale. A book that is going to be added to my "Chicken soup for the soul" list. The sort of book that hugs you like your favourite jumper.

It's also a rare book that as early as 1922, pre-universal suffrage, is portraying women as strong and independent. If you haven't read von Arnim before, this is a great way to start. A must-read.


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