Pacific view

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reading for a Summer Afternoon While Lying in a Hammock Drinking a Glass of Iced Tea

Elizabeth von Arnim- The Enchanted April (published 1922)

"For those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine"--

This book is a confection-- light-hearted, romantic in the best sense, and very witty. If this appeals to you, you may find that it becomes one of those comfort books, to be indulged in when you are under the weather and need an ice cream soda for a pick-me-up. In answer to those picky people who object that the plot is too unrealistic, and the ending overly sweet…well, IMO that is the point. It’s a comfort book, after all. Four English women, each of them unhappy in her own way, meet as strangers and chip in together on a month's stay at an Italian villa. The women have precious little in common with one another other than a vague dissatisfaction with their lives. A vacation like this should have disastrous results, one would think. But San Salvadore, in this case, functions like a mythical Forest of Arden—a magical realm where everyday matters recede, people are thrown together, comical little misunderstandings occur, visitors come and go, and the unexpected happens. The forced intimacy and the inefficiencies of the Italian postal system combine with the sensual Mediterranean climate to create a hothouse atmosphere, where friendship, healing, and romance can blossom.  The book is funny, too, in that wry, ironic British style.  I especially loved the interior monologues of repressed and lovelorn Rose Arbuthnot: It was just possible that she ought to go straight into the category Hysteria, which was often only the antechamber to Lunacy, but Mrs. Arbuthnot had learned not to hurry people into their final categories, having on more than one occasion discovered with dismay that she had made a mistake; and how difficult it had been to get them out again, and how crushed she had been with the most terrible remorse.”
Mike Newell directed a film version of this book in 1991, but in my opinion the movie falls a teensy bit short. Despite richly rewarding performances from a veteran British cast—Miranda Richardson, Alfred Molina, Jim Broadbent, and Joan Plowright (who was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Mrs. Fisher), the tone of the movie is just a tad uneven. But it’s still fun to watch on a rainy afternoon.

Winifred Watson - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Written in 1938, this lighter-than-air piece of puff pastry makes for an afternoon snack, not a substantial meal. Miss Pettigrew is a frowsy spinster governess who serendipitously stumbles right smack into the center of a glittering, high fashion, hard-drinking party scene, and suddenly she finds herself having the best time of her life. The story takes place over a 24 hour time period and chapters are organized into time segments, like “12:18 AM to 2:37 AM”. Miss Pettigrew, with a couple of drinks in her, realizes she has a heretofore hidden talent when it comes to meddling in other people’s affairs and helpfully smoothing the often rocky path to true love.  The book is like a glass of champagne—happy, sparkling, delicious. I have one quibble: There are a couple of anti-Semitic references that constitute the single jarring note in an otherwise close-to-perfect experience. I’ve experienced similar feelings of shock and dismay when reading Trollope, particularly “The Way We Live Now”. Obviously, we must consider such bigotry within the context of the times,. But for me it was still a fly in the ointment.

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