I’m about to commit an act of book-blogger sacrilege. I’ve just finished the audiobook of Elizabeth von Arnim‘s The Enchanted April, and I’m afraid I must confess that, well, I liked the movie better. This admission is particularly galling when I know that so many people were nonplussed by the film, and that’s putting it mildly. (See Thomas’s post and the comments, and you’ll see what I mean.)
Many of you know that I’m not necessarily a fan of cheerful stories, in books or in films. But the movie of Enchanted April, which I saw long before I even knew there was a book, somehow got under my skin. Whenever I’ve got a case of the mean reds, watching it makes me feel completely soothed and comforted. The over-the-top beauty of the setting, the terrific performances, the extravagant joy of the piece just reaches right into me and makes me happy.
The Enchanted April is about four women, strangers to one another, who together rent a castle in Italy called San Salvatore. Each one comes to Italy with a specific heaviness in her soul, and the monthlong sojourn helps each one lighten her load in some way. It’s a lovely story, in both book and film.
The film follows the book pretty closely (another reason I’m surprised at the dislike for the film). The actresses in the film don’t quite fit the physical descriptions in the book; Lady Carolyn in particular is different, not just in appearance but in demeanor. It’s hard to imagine Polly Walker’s Lady Carolyn being called “Scrap,” her nickname in the book. She’s too solid, not at all wispy. That said, I thought the film nicely captured the particular malaise each woman suffered.
This explains why I liked the movie just as well as the book, but better? How could it be better? For me, the big difference between the two was in the length of time we spend in the characters’ heads. The film uses voiceover at times to let viewers into the characters’ thinking, but a book allows for more direct narration of the characters’ thoughts. I had two problems with this. One was that it was too much. It didn’t take me long to know that Scrap wanted to be alone, that Mrs. Fisher prefers the past to the present, that Rose is insecure about her husband, and that Lottie believes everything will come right in the end. I felt that Von Arnim spent too much time going over this ground again and again. It’s possible that seeing the movie ruined me for this aspect of the book. I knew before I started what these characters thought; a reader new to the story would not. Plus, the audio format did mean I couldn’t skim through the repetitive bits, so the musings over the same themes felt extra long, bordering on tedious.
The other problem with getting into the characters’ heads is that there were some things I was better off not knowing. Lottie’s husband, Mellersh, is the principal victim here. On film, his character appears to develop beautifully, but the book makes it evident that he hasn’t grown as much as I’d imagined. The film, I should note, doesn’t contradict the book, but it keeps silent and lets me preserve the fairy-tale in my head. Von Arnim’s version of Mellersh is arguably more realistic, but the realism was a dampener to my enthusiasm.
Even though I prefer the film, the book is enjoyable. I didn’t dislike it. It just didn’t enchant me.