As a member of the Virago group on LibraryThing – much mentioned on this and other blogs of late, I would often hear, of the incredible difficulty in getting hold of a green copy of Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge. Green edition or not though – I really wanted to read it, and so was delighted to learn recently of a new edition being published by Daunt books. I ordered it immediately, and was impressed upon its arrival with the attractive high quality of this lovely new edition. In fact when I was with Virago reading friends over this last weekend I showed my copy off – and they pronounced it gorgeous and some of them pledged to buy it. Thankfully the contents are every bit as wonderful as I had been expecting and I enjoyed it hugely.
Lady Grace Kilmichael is a well-known painter, she is also a 40 something wife and mother. However she is now running away. Often feeling harried by her daughter and unappreciated by her husband, whose friendship with another woman is some cause for concern, Grace seeks an escape. The Europe, through which Grace travels, is a different place – geographically from the Europe of today – but Ann Bridge’s descriptions of the landscape are breath-taking. En route to Split and Dubrovnik, Grace travels through Paris, Venice and Torcello – where she meets a young man half her age, an aspiring painter in need of help and guidance. However when Grace arrives on the spectacular Dalmatian coast she finds the peace and tranquillity she requires to start and answer the questions at the heart of her flight.
“To get to Clissa from Trau one follows at first the shore road towards Spalato, along that strip of fertile coast sheltered from the bora, the bitter north wind, by the mountains behind, and ennobled with the seven fortresses, each with a village at its foot, which still recall the dominion of Venice in the days of her power. At Salona the road forks; the right-hand branch crosses the Giadro towards Spalato, the left-hand one passes through the modern village of Salona, and then climbs in great loops towards Clissa and the pass.”
Nicholas and Grace strike up a friendship that allows Grace to help him with his painting, but Grace is soon made aware that Nicholas’s feeling for her may have become a little more complicated, and in turn must face up to her own changing emotions.
I have no experience of the area of Europe that the book talks about – having never really been anywhere outside the UK. However Ann Bridge’s amazing sense of place allowed me to encounter the landscape of 1930’s Europe, with its colourful peasant peoples herding goats through ancient ruins, works of art, small unspoilt communities untouched by the modern world.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read –and I envy those who still have it to look forward to. I can now understand fully why so many people enthuse over this book. It certainly deserves to be read and read, and I am so glad Daunt books re issued it for us.