Friday Favorites: I Capture the Castle

Friday, December 17, 2010


I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith
★★★★★

The Mortmain family lives in a rundown castle in the English countryside in the 1930s. The book is presented as the 17-year-old Cassandra’s journal and in this way we see the world through her eyes.

There’s her father, a famous author who has become temperamental and withdrawn and no longer writes a thing. Topaz, her stepmother, a free spirit convinced that her purpose in life is to inspire great works in others. Rose, Cassandra’s older sister, is a beauty whose goal in life is to marry a rich man and escape poverty. Thomas, her brother, is a clever boy who never steps into the story’s spotlight. Finally there is Stephen, the son of their deceased maid, who lives with them and helps take care of the grounds. He’s a kind, humble boy and is devoted to Cassandra. He spends his extra time and money trying to make her life better in every way that he can.

Despite their financial ruin, Cassandra and her family are rather content. They make do with what they have, though it’s not a lot. Their lives are turned upside down when two wealthy American brothers, Simon and Neil Cotton, move into the mansion up the road. The two very different families find their fates unavoidable intertwined.

Like many literary second daughters before her (Jo March, Elizabeth Bennet) Cassandra makes a wonderful central character. She’s someone who you just want to be friends with. She’s a bit naïve for her age, but that’s because she’s grown up with almost no social interaction outside of her family. Throughout the book we watch her mature and begin to understand not only the world around her, but also herself.

This is one of those books that I just knew I was going to love. I’ve been saving it to read when I was in just the right mood. People had recommended it to me for years, comparing it to some of my favorites like, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Near the beginning of the book Cassandra and her sister share this exchange…

"How I wish I lived in a Jane Austen novel!"
“I said I'd rather be in a Charlotte Bronte.”
"Which would be nicest - Jane with a touch of Charlotte, or Charlotte with a touch of Jane?"

Please tell me how I could have resisted a book with a passage like that.

In the end it was all that I hoped it would be. The characters are rich, but deeply flawed. The plot is much more complicated than a simple happily ever after. The writing was wonderful and completely engrossing. Throughout the story I felt like I was there, enjoying the Midsummer Night’s Eve or sipping from my first glass of port on a rainy day right beside Cassandra. It did what so few books can do, left me wanting more from the characters who now felt like my friends.

A couple great lines…

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”

“They went on interrupting each other in a perfectly friendly manner.”

15 comments:

Joanne said...

I;ve had this book on my TBR list forever....now I must move it up closer to the top! Great review!

Vaishnavi said...

I have heard such great things about this book! I can't wait to read it. Thanks for quite a lovely review, I loved the quotes! Jane with a touch of Charlotte don't you think?

Jeanne said...

Another great thing about this book--it has the most intriguing first line!

Avid Reader said...

Joanne/Vaishnavi - Read it immediately! I wish I'd read it sooner so I could already be rereading it.

Jeanne - I know!

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink"

Anonymous said...

Dodie Smith adapted her novel into a stage play which is now playing at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. www.shakespearenj.org

Jenners said...

I read this a few years back and then kept thinking it was Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived In a Castle." A little bit of trivia for you that has absolutely no value but there is it nonetheless.

Nymeth said...

You're making me want to drop everything and re-read it! Such a great book.

Avid Reader said...

Jenners - Funny, I've been meaning to read that one, but from what I hear it's a much different book.

Brenna said...

This sounds like a lovely book. You've also inspired me to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - since it's compared to that.

bookmagic said...

I bought this book earlier in the year but have not gotten to it. This is a reminder that I need to take it off the shelf and enjoy it.

Amanda said...

I just got this one from my secret santa, and I can't wait to read it!

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

I've had this on my bedside table since I bought it this summer...but I still haven't cracked the cover...must get to it SOON!

Avid Reader said...

Brenna - Can't wait to hear what you think of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it's wonderful!

I let this one linger on my shelf for far too long. I hope you all get a chance to read it soon.

BookQuoter said...

Love this book! Also love the movie. I think it was a very good adaptation!

Avid Reader said...

BookQuoter - I think I may have seen that a few years ago, but I want to re-watch it now that I've read the book.