If I could describe this book in one word, it would be ‘delightful’. Gently humorous and charming, it has a magic which can’t fail to lift one’s spirits.
The story is about four very different women who rent a house together in Italy for a month. On a gloomy day in London, an advert in the newspaper attracts the timid and eccentric Mrs Wilkins, who wants to get away from her overbearing and humourless husband. Mrs Arbuthnot, kind and religious, is persuaded to come along. She only wishes her own husband cared enough to miss her. Then they advertise for two more women to share the cost of renting. Elderly, superior Mrs Fisher is not interested in anything besides nuts and the old literary greats. Beautiful young Lady Caroline, meanwhile, is keen to escape all of her tiresome admirers. The dynamics between these characters are one of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel.
There isn’t much of a plot beyond this, but I find there’s a hint of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its dreamy atmosphere, magic and the promise of couples being reunited. The setting is key to the novel, as one by one the characters give in to the happiness wrought by the sunshine, blue skies, quiet and masses of flowers. I’m giving the flowers an extra mention because every chapter is bursting with them. Reading this book is like going on a holiday where there is nothing to do but stroll in colourful flower gardens while waiting for your next meal. The overall content is light, but there are some issues touched upon such as the estrangement between husbands and wives, loneliness and judging by appearances.
A recommended classic read, especially in April. This is a re-read.
First published in 1922. This is the 1986 Virago edition.