Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen, review by Shirley Wells
If you're a fan of the classic novel The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1922) or the charming movie version Enchanted April (1992)--or even if you're not—Enchanted August by Brenda Bowen is the perfect summer read.
Four harried and unhappy strangers agree to share the rent and expenses of a cottage in Maine for the month of August. All four are dissatisfied with their current lives and loves and come looking for a vacation from the stresses of their jobs and families. Little Lost Island—accessible only by boat—turns out to be the exact refuge they seek with Hopewell Cottage housing the unlikely quartet. They are joined in their idyllic month of respite by family and friends, and even their landlord—a true romantic--falls under its spell.
There's an element of Shakespearean comedy in the coincidental meetings and mix-ups of the friends and lovers. And the story takes on a hint of the fantastic as the beauty and calm of Little Lost Island and the healing power of Hopewell Cottage transform these broken souls.
Much of the charm of this novel comes from its brilliant update of the beloved original novel. Author Brenda Bowen admitted that “I wanted to read the updated version of The Enchanted April so much that I wrote it myself.” In fact, Von Arnim's brilliant dialogue and description are occasionally repeated verbatim since they still so aptly apply to our modern world. For example, in Enchanted August, Caroline Dester contemplates the tyranny of fashion: “You don’t take your clothes to events . . . they take you.” This quip is still relevant when the updated, media-saturated Caroline Dester utters it in Enchanted August! Bowen has also used the same character names as in the 1922 novel but has updated the location and time period. Instead of escaping from a chilly and gray London, Lottie Wilkinson and Rose Arbuthnot are New Yorkers seeking a cooler—and calmer—summer climate which they find off the coast of Maine. Their two companions are Caroline Dester, still a movie star as in the original but now a star of indies, and Beverly Fisher, the eldest of the group, still grieving over two overwhelming losses.
The advertisement that lures our protagonists to Little Lost Island promises “springwater, blueberries, sea glass,” and the beauty of this magical island doesn't disappoint. With the rhythms of the tides, the sunrises and sunsets, the blooming flowers, and singing birds; social classes and distinctions fall away, proving once again that nature can be a great equalizer. The month drifts past, and the four disparate roommates become friends, each experiencing a reawakening that leads them to seek out the very people and places they were originally trying so hard to avoid. Whether the changes in their lives that the salt air and sand have brought about can endure once they return to “real life” is anyone's guess...but I'm choosing to believe in the second chances in life and love that this endearing novel promises.
(FYI: I recently saw a photo of Academy Award-winning actress Julianne Moore carrying a copy of Enchanted April. You'd better pick up your own copy in case you two end up on the same beach this summer. Wouldn't that be a great conversation starter?!)