Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ilyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

Occasionally I finish one book and drift over to my bookshelves to contemplate which book to read next - and the next read turns out to be the most perfect book to suit my current mood. This does not happen often enough, but when it does, oh! The delight! I love being gripped from page one and being unable to think of anything else for days. The sheer joy of slipping in between the book covers and burrowing down into the plot so that the characters are a whisper's breath away is incomparable to anything else.

Illyrian Spring is one of those reads that pulls you in so that you are the characters. Their experiences are as vivid as your own and they become so real that to finish the book is a wrench. The protagonist is Lady Kilmichael who is also the famous painter Grace Stanway. Grace decides to escape her family and leave her life behind to go on an unplanned trip drifting and painting her way through Italy, Croatia and the eastern coast of the Adriatic sea which used to be known as Dalmatia.

Whilst in Venice, Grace meets the young Nicholas Humphries who is around the same age as her twin sons. He is an aspiring painter whose parents have convinced him to pursue the sensible route of architecture and give up painting. Just as Grace is looking for freedom from the pressures of domestic life and the associated responsibility, so Nicholas is looking for freedom from his parents rule.

Grace and Nicholas go on a journey together. They paint and explore the landscape and their lives become further and further entwined as each embarks upon an intense journey of self-discovery.

What is so interesting about Ann Bridge's writing is the insightful portrayal of characters who are in a state of flux and running away from their lives. There is no melodrama, only the deep intensity of two souls searching for answers and finding each other to aid them in their understanding.

The search for freedom on Grace's part leads her to make some startling discoveries about herself. The freedom that she craves is not gained from running away from her life but from looking inside herself and examining the truth of her problems with her family. In this way, Bridge writes with psychological astuteness and her novel is timeless as a result. After all, how many of us avoid a difficult situation by leaving it?

This book is a simply lovely and wonderful read, made more wonderful by the description of the beautiful landscapes that Nicholas and Grace explore. It made me yearn to go travelling along the Adriatic coast with only a rucksack and a pair of tennis shoes. I would swap the paint and canvas for a notebook and pen though.

Illyrian Spring seems to be a difficult book to get your hands on, I was fortunate enough to be given it by my lovely friend Rachel. She loved it and raved about it and I know exactly why - it is an honest portrayal of a realistic adventure. In other words, the reader feels as if the experiences of Grace are obtainable, if we just left a note and hopped on a train. In that way, it is made even more magical as it delves into a part of us that we all keep hidden. The part that wants to run away. The novel makes it perfectly clear though, that at some point we have to make a decision about going back and Ann Bridge leads us gently by the hand to the right decision.

If you can find this book, buy it. Beg, borrow or steal it. Reading it is like slipping into a new skin and embarking upon a trip during which life presents some answers to a few troubling questions. All this in the midst of a delicate romance in a breathtaking location where the sea sparkles and time is an irrelevance. I think I may have to dive back in.


  1. Sounds idyllic. When and where I will find it is the other issue!

  2. It sounds wonderful, I can't seem to find it though! Who shall I start begging?

  3. This is a great favourite of mine, a lovely gentle book with such believable characters and lovely descriptions. I read it alongside Vita Sackville West's All Passion Spent and Monica Dickens' The Wind of Heaven - they make a fascinating trio about the experience of women of 'a certain age' in the first half of the twentieth century. Oh, and Lolly Willowes fits in there nicely. I'm sure other people have favourites to add too.

  4. I am desperate to read this but copies are so hard to come by - where idd you find yours? and might I borrow it since we are in the same town?!

  5. Rachel convinced me to add this to my tbr pile, too.... and I'm STILL searching for a copy!! So glad you loved it.

  6. I will make the world read this book!!!

    I knew you would love this, I knew it! Isn't it perfect and beautiful? If only someone would reprint it. Persephone don't want to. Big mistake if you ask me - it would be a best seller!

    Beautiful review and yes, I am lovely. :)

  7. Dear BB, With such a glowing recommendation, how could I possibly not wish to find a copy and make it my own. I shall with due haste seek it out, the thrill of a difficult chase will surely make the end prize even more desirable.

  8. Oh so tantalising... A fantastic review of what sounds like a truly truly wonderful book and it's hard to find... A lovely start to Saturday reading this review.

  9. I'm so excited to read this! Frost in May is my next read and then Illyrian Spring is after that *happy dance*.

    Thanks for the lovely review, Naomi!

  10. I would love to read this but as I don't have a copy & it looks like it won't be easy to find I might read the Ann Bridge I do have - the Capuchin reprint of Peking Picnic. Have you thought of recommending Illyrian Spring to Capuchin or the Bloomsbury Group? Sounds perfect for either list.

  11. I'm halfway through it at the moment and enjoying it so much!

    To those of you desperate to get hold of a copy, take heart. For a supposedly rare book, there are a lot of copies around - if you're prepared to pay upwards of £15. But if you keep an eye on ABE Books and Amazon cheap copies come up quite often. I found mine for a fiver, a Virago paperback, I do love the cover. Whoever chose the cover art of those early VMCs had a real talent for it.

    Anyway, lovely review, I thought you captured the book beautifully.


    PS My mother has just read another of her novels, Ginger Griffin, and recommended that too...

  12. Interesting. I find her style to be elitist and boorish. Don't bother if you are interested in fresh perspective. Sounds like she's reliving her past. Or wishful thinking on her part. I heard George Mallory was a sweetheart of hers and he is all through these. I mean, really?

  13. An absolutely beautiful book that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you, like me, love books like Enchanted April you will love this.