Emphasis On: The Enchanted April

Since starting Emphatic Hands, I have tried to find a way to write about things I like in brief. That rarely works out. But I’m going to try it from now on, once a week, every Tuesday. (Haha, I hope.) “Emphasis On” – shut up, I needed a title – will consist of short reviews of books, music, films or television. Last week, I talked about Craig Thompson’s graphic memoir, BlanketsThis week, I’m talking about Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel, The Enchanted April.

I only knew this book existed because Netflix kept suggesting I watch the movie, which I assumed starred Helena Bonham Carter, but recently found out did not. (Polly Walker – who I know best as Atia of the Julii in Rome – just looks a tiny bit like Helena Bonham Carter on the film poster.) I picked up The Enchanted April months ago on the table in the Strand where I know they keep the new NYRB Classics paperbacks. I finally got around to reading it last week and, I can tell you, it is a very nice book.

Published in 1921, The Enchanted April is about four women who spend a month at an Italian castle after one of them reads about it in a newspaper advertisement. The story is simple. The women go to the castle and their perceptions and relationships and LIVES are changed. Though she mostly focuses on the women, I was very impressed by the way von Arnim was able to write from the perspectives of all of the characters who appear in the novel, who vary in age, gender and nationality. (She dwells briefly on the husbands and suitors of the women, who are all pretty big jerks, as well as the castle’s staff.) And after finishing the book, I felt satisfied by the lovely positivity of the story, even if the ending was abrupt and the outlook for the characters was perhaps a little too hopeful and earnest. Not every book I read needs to blow my mind for me to like it. The experience of reading this felt like a vacation from reading, which I think was just what I needed.

Give this book a shot if you like costume dramas or, more specifically, stories about British ladies who take long trips to the continent, which I’m certain is a real literary subgenre. Or if you are like me and need to take a bit of a reading vacation every once in a while.

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