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January 25, 2019
I read back-to-back light women’s fiction books (chick lit) in recent days, unusual and interesting for me since chick lit isn’t my preferred genre. The Enchanted April was originally published in the 1920s, and The Late Bloomers’ Club is contemporary. As I read them, I couldn’t resist a comparison.
Girls decide to take a girls’ trip to Italy…..does this sound modern?…..it happened in 1920!
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Genre/Categories: Women’s Fiction, Classics, Romance, Italy
Set in the 1920s, two women (strangers at this point) sitting near each other in a woman’s club strike up a conversation about an advertisement they see to rent a medieval castle in Italy. Both women are lonely and are in marriages that are less than satisfactory. One of the women, Mrs. Wilkins, inspires the other and soon they are making plans to rent the castle. Each has a nest egg that she can use, and they decide to embark on this adventure without sharing their exact plans with their husbands. While making plans, they come to the conclusion that since it’s a huge castle with eight beds, that it would be a good idea to find two more women so that four of them are sharing the cost to rent the Italian castle for one month. The four lonely strangers, all miserable in their own ways, converge on the castle and each one of their lives is changed because of the almost magical experience.
Amazon Rating (2015 edition): 4.1 Stars
Happiness. Four women in The Enchanted April take a girls’ trip to a castle in Italy. This sounds contemporary, and it was probably a radical plan in the 20s for women to plan a getaway or holiday (as these English women refer to it) alone and without the approval of their husbands. Two of the women struggle with feelings of guilt for wanting some happiness for themselves. Mrs. Wilkins states, “Even if it were wrong, it would only be for a month…..Anyhow, I’m sure it’s wrong to go on being good for too long, till one gets miserable.” As Mrs. Arbuthnot is troubled by being “away from her compass points of God, Husband, Home and Duty,” the narrator notes: “For years she had been able to be happy only by forgetting happiness. She wanted to stay like that. She wanted to shut out everything that would remind her of beautiful things, that might set her off again longing, desiring…” Modern women and 1920s women each feel the need to pursue happiness for themselves and while many contemporary women plan frequent trips for themselves, two of the characters in The Enchanted April struggle with guilt for making that choice and spend energy justifying it.
Personal Experience. I had an experience in my twenties that helped me relate to how these women feel, and I can empathize with them and their guilt. I left my two very young children at home with their dad while I attended a weekend women’s retreat sponsored by our church. I was giddy with the freedom and desperate for some alone and unstructured time. So….I ditched one of the meetings to sit by the pool and read, write in my journal, and reflect on the beauty of the mountain environment. I felt a twinge of guilt because I, too, was a duty bound person….but my needs as a young harried mom were stronger. When I rejoined the group, an older woman approached me and confronted me on being irresponsible and informed me of how disappointed she was in my absence from the meeting (although I didn’t have any responsibilities at the meeting). Because I am a duty bound and generally responsible person, that was an unforgettable lesson that still triggers feelings of guilt whenever I am selfish and think only of my own happiness. Even though I’m a contemporary woman, I can relate to these women from the 20s and the struggle they face in planning a trip for the purpose of their own happiness, and I feel like a fish out of water in this era of girls’ trips! How about you?
Title and Setting. The title of The Enchanted April implies that there might be a little magic involved. Four unhappy, lonely, and opinionated women descend on a picturesque seaside villa in Italy, vying for authority and the best room, and at the end of April each has been mysteriously affected by the experience. Four strangers are happier, have gained understanding and respect for each other, and have become friends. Is it the flowers?! I’ve experienced those types of feelings in Hawaii! Those who love brilliant setting descriptions (and Italy!) will fall in love with this aspect of the story.
Character Driven. This story is heavily character driven (enjoying lots of white privilege) and not plot driven. The focus is on relationships and the pursuit of happiness. Extra characters show up to add interest and complications to the story.
Themes. Thoughtful themes include happiness, friendship, marriage, and the mindset of the 20s in terms of marriage, morals, customs, manners, etc.
Recommended for fans of classic literature, and for readers who would enjoy a glimpse into 1920s England and Italy.
My Rating: 3 Stars
Meet the Author, Elizabeth Von Arnim
The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller
Genre/Categories: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Friendship, Romance
Totally unplanned but so interesting to read this on the heels of The Enchanted April!
Happiness. The two sisters in The Late Bloomers’ Club do not enjoy the same privilege as the women in The Enchanted April; however, both stories feature main characters who are opinionated, headstrong, determined, and searching for happiness. The contrast of what a woman’s search for happiness looks like in 1920 and today would make an excellent book club discussion!
Setting. While The Enchanted April takes place in a picturesque seaside villa and the main action is restricted to a small cast of main characters within the villa, The Late Bloomer’s Club is set in the small, rural town of Guthrie, Vermont and includes an entire community along with some colorful characters. Think “Stars Hollow” (Gilmore Girls), including autumn leaves, comfort food, and a diner.
Themes. Common themes between the two stories include the search for happiness, romance, duty, and friendship. The Late Bloomers’ Club adds themes of belonging, small town life/values, sibling rivalry/jealousy/loyalty, inclusiveness, and taking risks/following dreams.
Characters. I feel more connected to the characters in The Late Bloomer’s Club than those in The Enchanted April. I realize that the norms of the time period have a great effect on character development. Characters in Enchanted April are concerned with outward appearances, manners, formality, prestige, social standing, and power; whereas, characters in Late Bloomers’ Club are concerned with the well-being of others, community minded, authentic, and inclusive. Even though a character in Enchanted April works with a charity to provide for the poor, we understand that her motivation is self-serving. Many characters in Late Bloomers’ Club are altruistic in their genuine efforts to help others.
Recommended. Sometimes you need a book that isn’t too heavy. The author accomplishes what she sets out to do really well, and I categorize The Late Bloomers Club as well written, charming, lighter women’s fiction (chick lit). I recommend this engaging and heartfelt story for readers who enjoy a touch of romance, prefer happy endings, and for those who love the atmosphere and feel of the “Stars Hollow” community (Gilmore Girls). If you don’t pick this up expecting more, I think you’ll be satisfied with the read. Although this is a stand alone, you might also enjoy Louise Miller’s first book about the same Vermont community: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
Meet the Author, Louise Miller
Louise Miller is a writer and pastry chef living in Boston, MA. Her debut novel, THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING was selected as an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association, a Library Reads pick by Librarians across the U.S., and was shortlisted by the America Library Association’s Reading List Council for best women’s fiction in 2017. Her 2nd novel, THE LATE BLOOMERS’ CLUB, will be published in July 2018. Louise is an art school dropout, an amateur flower gardener, an old-time banjo player, an obsessive moviegoer, and a champion of old dogs.
Have you read books with similar themes without planning it? Do you think it’s interesting when one book reminds you of another and you consider them as a pairing or book flight? What pairings can you think of? I think of The Great Alone, Educated, and The Glass Castle because of themes of domestic violence. Learning to See and The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet would be an interesting pairing because of the Japanese Internment Camp theme. You could even include The Last Year of the War in that pairing because of the section about an Internment Camp in Texas. This is an interesting subject and could become an entire blog post!
Happy Reading Book Worms
“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes
“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text
This is important information! Why getting lost in a book is so good for you according to science!
Books to Movies….
And….here’s the trailer for Where’d You Go Bernadette starring Cate Blanchette.
(You might consider adding these book titles to your ‘want to read list’ in preparation!)
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