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.