The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
How have I never read Elizabeth von Arnim before now? I knew The Enchanted April from the 1992 film starring Michael Kitchen - well, he wasn't the star, but he was the reason I watched it. And yet, despite the well-known Purist Principle that The Book Is Always Better, I never got around to reading it until now.
I feel that I'm probably the last person in the reading world who hasn't read this, so discussing the plot would be superfluous. For me, the heart of the story is the transformation of the four women who come together to stay at the "small mediaeval castle on the shores of the Mediterranean" for the month of April. I think it is Mrs. Wilkins, the first character that we meet, who undergoes the greatest change. We meet her as a Cinderella, slaving away not for evil stepsisters but for a domineering, demanding husband who has worn her down to a grey shadow. We don't even learn her name, Lotty, until she arrives in Italy. Yet it is she who approaches Rose Arbuthnot, a stranger to her, and suggests they rent the small castle. From that moment on, she seems to reclaim herself, to rediscover love, and to spark the transformation not only of Rose but also of the two other residents. Mrs Fisher, with her tales of "Eminent Victorians I Have Known," is a comic terror, and the battles she wages over precedence and the best rooms in the castle reminded me of Mapp and Lucia. The fourth resident, Lady Caroline Dester, just wants time alone, away from the greedy attentions of those she terms "grabbers," those who in their affection or attraction want to leech on to her; time to think, to discern.
Lady Caroline's epiphany comes very late in the book, and it isn't the most convincing, but then this is a fairy tale, and closing the book I can well believe that everyone lived happily ever after.
Note: I should have mentioned that it was Kristin's reivew over at Bookmarks and Teacups that inspired me to get this from the library.