I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

>> Thursday, March 17, 2005

From the back of my 1998 edition of I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith:

"This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met. Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain captures the castle in her insightful, witty journal entries."-- Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling

"I Capture the Castle is finally back in print. It should be welcomed with a bouquet of roses and a brass band. Ever since I was handed a tattered copy years ago with the recommendation 'You'll love it,' it has been one of my favorite novels. Cassandra Mortmain is one hell of a narrator, offering sharp wit, piercing insight and touching lyricism. She is a heroine we readers wish we could be, a young woman it is impossible not to adore." -- Susan Isaacs

Glowing recommendations from JK Rowling AND Susan Isaacs, raving about the novel's narrator? These are two authors who, IMHO, create the absolute best characters, so how could I resist?

This wonderful novel tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her extraordinary family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle.

Cassandra's eccentric father is a writer whose first book took the literary world by storm but he has since failed to write a single word and now spends most of his time reading detective novels from the village library.

Cassandra's elder sister, Rose - exquisitely beautiful, vain and bored - despairs of her family's circumstances and determines to marry their affluent American landlord Simon, regardless of the fact she does not love him. She is in turn helped and hindered in this by their bohemian step-mother Topaz, an artist's model and nudist who likes to commune with nature.

Finally there is Stephen, dazzlingly handsome and hopelessly in love with Cassandra. Amidst this maelstrom Cassandra strives to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries, which candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has captured the heart of the reader in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.
Unlike many romance readers, I do like first-person narratives, and this was a wonderful one. A B+.

A book written in first-person has to have an interesting narrator, and I Capture the Castle definitely did. Cassandra was just lovely, and I adored her voice. She was a wonderful observer, and I liked that even when she was oblivious about something, odds are, we readers could arrive at our own conclusions through her writing. The ending, for instance, is pretty much left open in Cassandra's mind... she has no idea of what will happen to her, but there are some very nice clues there!

And the pictures that came through her writing were delightful. I saw her family so clearly! I think I especially enjoyed Topaz ;-)

This was very much a coming-of-age story, and I though Cassandra had underwent some very satisfying growing-up throughout the story. They all did, actually, the Mortmains, which left me smiling at the end of the book :-)

The book was published in 1948 and set over a decade earlier (IIRC), and one of the things I liked most was the picture of life in that time. We see mostly the countryside, but also quite a bit of London, and it's all fascinating. The only problem here is something that always comes up when I read stories set between the world wars... realizing that in a few years time, odds were, the men would have gone off to war. That makes the whole idea of a HEA a bit problematic.

Still, it's fiction, and if I choose to believe everyone will be all right, who's to contradict me?


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