Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August opens with two women spotting a battered index card on a bulletin board promising a summer of spring water, blueberries and sea glass on Little Lost Island, Maine. If this sounds familiar, it may be because of the similarity to the opening of Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim’s beloved 1922 novel of four women whose lives are transformed by a summer in an Italian castle. Bowen has refashioned the classic, relocating the action but keeping the character names and the spirit of lives reinvented by new surroundings.
As in Enchanted April, the summer vacation house hosts a group of initially mismatched, unhappy people. Lottie Wilkes and Rose Arbuthnot are stressed by the pressures of city life and feel estranged from their distracted husbands. Caroline Dester is a beautiful actress trying to sort out her stalled career. In Bowen’s most clever twist, the character of Beverly Fisher is an old man. Back in New York, cottage owner Robert hopes that this year the rental will bring him true love at last. After a rough start, the island begins to work its magic.
Though both novels move swiftly toward a neat resolution, Enchanted August never quite reaches the depth of the original, perhaps because women’s lives were so much more restricted in the 1920s. Nevertheless, Bowen, who has worked as a children’s publisher and author, has created a charming and witty update with a setting that could not be more appealing—from the woodland fairy houses and twin turrets in the island cottage to the rocky beaches and all-day lobster bakes. Enchanted August reminds us that sometimes it just takes a change of scenery to reveal that love is right in front of us.