In a small bookshop in Santorini, Greece, in the discounted items, I found this classic novel. The title threw the line out and reeled me in: I read the back but had already decided that it would be the perfect holiday novel. I didn’t read it, however, until I came back to a rapidly cooling September in Madrid with a full-on post-holiday depression.
Maybe it wasn’t the right moment to read a sunny, spring book, I thought, but started it anyway.
And was rewarded, right from the first sentence:
“To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine” is not only the opening sentence, but the thread that keeps the whole novel together. It was like having a second vacation, in the warm (but not too hot!) garden of a rented castle in San Salvatore, probably near Amalfi, in Italy. The “San Salvatore” in which the novel is set doesn’t really exist (apparently the movie adaptation was filmed in Liguria) but when four English women, strangers to each other, decide that yes, they wouldn’t mind escaping city life for a while and join forces to rent the said castle, the castle they arrive in is as real as any. The garden, in which the women spend most of their time, is overflowing with plants and flowers. The food is scarcely mentioned (a first in a novel set in Italy written by a non-Italian!) and the light relationships that the women start to weave are a pleasure to read about.
No large scale drama, no kinkiness, no murder. A breezy read, perfect – not for a spring/summer reading, as other reviewers have said – but for a getaway place you can go to while maybe commuting to your job in January, when everything seems at its worst. This book will gently lift you up and take you away. Yes, for only a few hundred pages, but what you keep after reading it will stay with you for the whole winter. Or more, if you like it as much as I did. Sometimes, you just need to get away.
Post Scriptum: I then saw the film. But myself, sipping tea and munching on biscuits, on the sofa, while outside it was an anonymous rainy afternoon. The film was nothing compared to the book – the breeziness of the book became snail-paced scenes in the film; the actresses, although objectively talented (and famous), were slightly insipid; the breathtaking lushness of the garden was sparsely rendered in the movie. On the whole, the words in the book matched with my imagination made a much better film in my head than Mike Newell did.