Not only are Elizabeth von Arnim’s works experiencing a surge in popularity, with The Enchanted April being republished as a Penguin Classic this month, but her 90-year-old novel has spawned a work of fan fiction in Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August.
Bowen takes four same named characters and weaves a contemporary 21st century tale set on an island in Maine. A huge fan of first the movie and then the book, Bowen transposes von Arnim’s idea into the modern world and reinvents its magic.
Two mothers Lottie and Rose see the same advertisement posted on the noticeboard of the over-zealous Brooklyn preschool their children attend:
Little Lost Island, Maine.
Old, pretty cottage
to rent on a small island
Springwater, blueberries, sea glass.
They decide to rent it and find two others to join them to reduce the cost, Caroline Dester, a celebrity who wishes to hide from the world following a recent public humiliation and Beverly Fisher, the somewhat grumpy and initially reclusive, older character, grieving after a heartbreaking loss and seeking solitude in the company of strangers.
Lottie and Rose reflect on their unhappy marriages; distance and absence incline them towards remembering better days in the early years and in a surge of optimism brought on by the island ambiance, Lottie invites her husband without consulting the others, while Rose procrastinates at Lottie’s suggestion that she do the same.
These four unlikely holidaymakers attempt to navigate living together for one month and discover an ironic comfort and lack of inhibition brought about in the company of strangers. Wounds begin to heal, the island changes their routine and shifts their perspectives as they discover the life-changing effect of a month-long summer holiday on a small island where there is little to do but relax and unwind.
Enchanted August is a pleasant read, even when aware of the plot as it unfolds; discovering how Bowen chooses to represent her characters and their various dilemmas is part of the joy in reading it.
It is very much an American version with its characters and setting just as von Arnim’s is essentially English even if set in Italy. One of the intriguing local aspects was the age-old lobster bake, something of a communal island lobster, clam, vegetable, seaweed, open fire culinary tradition that brings everyone together.
The island didn’t succeed in invoking quite the same charm and magic as Portofino did for me in the orignal classic, an idyll almost impossible to replicate, however it perhaps offers for many, a more realistic or attainable allure, the idea that one doesn’t have to travel so far to find a simple magic that can transform perspectives and lives.
An entertaining summer read, evocative of the charm, simplicity and transformative powers of a small island holiday.
Review of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Review of Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Note: This book is an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher.
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Hm…this seems like an unnecessary project to me. I feel the same about those updated Austen novels. I’d rather read another original! Glad you got at least some enjoyment out of it though.
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I was really glad to have read The Enchanted April which I enjoyed immensely, so for that I’m grateful, but there does seem to be some inspirational force lacking when the plot is already a given. It might be that this book has a better chance among those who come to it completely fresh, almost without knowing about the existence of the original.
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I’m very keen to read the original (it’s been sitting on one of my wishlists for ages!) but will probably pass on the contemporary update. It sounds as if you’ve been very fair in your review – the original must be a challenging act to follow.
yes, sometimes it works reworking other books… sometimes not… Jean Rhys’s take on Mr Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea, and The Jane Austen Book Club worked for me… but somehow I wonder if this would… it was E.Von Arnim’s atmosphere of another place and time that was always so beguiling… you are very open-minded in your review – but then again, you are always open-minded…!!!
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Thank you Valerie, I watched the Jane Austen Book Club film and really enjoyed it, but I don’t think I ever read the book, or even Jane Austen I think! A sadly lacking repertoire.
Elizabeth Von Arnim certainly chose the perfect location and it helped I am sure that she was actually there as she wrote. Her unique and wry sense of humour prevents it from feeling too much like a holiday for the privileged, which is after all, what it is and yet she suceeds in making it compelling for all.