Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot meet unexpectedly in their club, both having spotted the advertisement for a month-long rental of an Italian castle by the sea. Both desperate to leave their lives behind for a short while they agree to rent the castle between them, engaging Lady Caroline and Mrs Fisher to share the costs. Soon the magic of Italy casts it spell over the four women and they find themselves changed in unforseen ways.
Any of us lucky enough to go on holiday know that they can have a magical effect on the psyche. A break away from the norm, from everyday worries, helps lift the spirits and forget, albeit temporarily, issues that may plague us at home.
Mrs Wilkins blossoms, much like the wisteria, almost as soon as her feet land in Italy. She becomes Lotty, first to Mrs Arbuthnot, then to the other women, much to Mrs Fisher’s consternation. She is transformed by the castle, seeing herself and her husband in a new light and is so certain that the others will see themselves differently too. Mrs Arbuthnot, soon to be Rose to her new friends, soon starts to view her own life differently, becoming more melancholy as she begins to perceive that her choices may have impacted her relationship with her husband. Mrs Fisher is determined to separate herself from the others, taking over the best sitting room and studiously ignoring the radiant Lotty. Lady Caroline too is determined to separate herself from others, tired of being pandered to and pawed, too aware her beauty and charm have an odd and not always welcome effect on others. However all four women soon find the magic of Italy changes them in unforseen ways.
This is not just a book about four disparate women, thrown together. It is a comedy of manners, of breaking down social barriers, of forging friendships and rekindling passions. It is about finding the time and the inclination to love yourself and your life. And about finding the time to just sit in the sun.
My April was enchanted reading this wonderful novel. I could easily imagine myself walking around the grounds, taking in the beautiful views and being caught up in the exuberance of Lotty and the gentle charm of Rose and Lady Caroline. A joyful, fun, and sometimes moving novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I shall now practise my wafting whilst I look out for more of Elizabeth von Arnim’s work.