The Enchanted Garden by Elizabeth Von Armin (NYRB week) (3 out of 5 stars)

NYRB week (11/7 to 11/13)

The Enchanted Garden by Elizabeth Von Armin revolves around four women lured away “from the dismal British weather to San Salvatore, a castle high above a bay on the sunny Italian Riviera,” and how they change as “the Mediterranean spirit stirs [their] souls.”

I decided on The Enchanted Garden  based on this review on Thomas’s My Porch blog.    Even after reading such a positive review of it, I was slightly wary.  I tend to be skeptical of so-called “women’s  fiction” where there is very little action.  To my great surprise, however, I found the whole book  simply delightful.  The characters are fully realized and very funny.  The landscape and architectural details are also well done.  The most appropriate word for the prose would be lush.  Von Armin also describes well how new surroundings can awaken the mind and soul, and how we can become numb to the beauty of what we see every day.

“Yet the four visitors, while their bodies sat–that was Mrs. Fisher’s–or lay that was Lady Caroline’s–or loitered–that was Mrs. Arcbuthnot’s–or went in solitude up into the hills–that was Mrs. Wilkins’s–were anything but torpid really. Their minds were usually busy.  Even at night their minds were busy, and the dreams they had were clear, thin, quick things, entirely different from the heavy dreams of home.  There was that in the atmosphere of San Salvatore which produced active-mindedness in all except the natives. They, as before whatever the beauty around them, whatever the prodigal seasons did, remained immune from thoughts other than those they were accustomed to.  All their lives they had seen, year by year, the amazing recurrent spectacle of April in the gardens, and custom had made it invisable to them.”

When reading the Enchanted Garden, I was reminded of my own experiences of place (and its effect on my mind) while in Ireland and Scotland.  I was also reminded on how numb I can be to the wonders of living in (well near) D.C.

Some other miscellaneous thoughts: Her style of punctuation was hard to get used to at first, but after the first 50 or pages or so I did.   The last 50 pages or so with it’s Shakespearean style love triangles and somewhat mistaken identities were hilarious.  I can definitely see this part making a good movie.   I’m not so sure about the rest of the book making a good movie.  There’s a lot that goes on internally for the different women, and I have a hard time seeing how that translates well to film.  I have the movie saved in my Netflix queue to watch soon.  This was a good book to read while sick, since it didn’t demand too much brain work.  I will definitely be reading more NYRB books and more Virago Books.  My edition of The Enchanted April was actually from the library and was the Virago edition not the NYRB one. Virago Books is dedicated to the celebration of women authors.  I wish the library had more of both, since my book buying budget is limited.

Happy Satuday folks!








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