It astonishes me that Ann Bridge is so unread these days. For anyone new to her work, Illyrian Spring is a wonderful place to start. It's one of those novels where the plot is almost an incidental pleasure. The real joy here is the freshness and acuity of Bridge's prose. Just like the two artists who are her romantic protagonists, Bridge can evoke the arid landscapes and peaceful villages of 1930s Dalmatia with just a few deft strokes. The plot itself revolves around the aristocratic Grace Kilmichael, who in her early 40s suddenly loses patience with her three demanding children and her distant, possibly unfaithful husband. She escapes by means of the Orient Express to the sunlit Adriatic, to resume her long-abandoned career as a painter. There she meets Nicholas Humphries, half her age, but who like her is on the run from an uninspiring destiny. Unhappy with the prospect of becoming an architect, he has come to Dalmatia to follow his true vocation - painting. As their relationship shifts and deepens, Bridge handles its evolving complexities with tact, sensitivity and real emotional insight. There's a narrative tautness here too, which never slackens despite the many delightful detours on which Bridge leads us through the flower-strewn hills of Dalmatia in springtime.
Hats off to Daunt Books for putting a huge amount of love and devotion into this excellent re-issue. This is a real bibliophile's paperback. The typesetting is deft and crisp, the paper is smooth, fine and creamy to the touch, the endpapers are tastefully patterned. Books as good as this are the Luddite's reward for refusing to own a Kindle!