I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

Castles are enchanted places. They are full of history and command respect, yet they’re also beautiful. I have never seen a castle myself, but the main character in this book (Cassandra) and her family live in one. When her father, a writer, saw the castle and the adjoining house built into the side of it, he knew he had to live there, and promptly signed a very long lease. From the time they moved in to the time Cassandra begins keeping her journal, her mother dies, her father has stopped writing completely and remarried, and they are so poor they’ve had to sell all the furniture in the house so they can afford to feed themselves. The novel consists of three different journals Cassandra keeps at this turbulent time in her life. She receives the first as a gift from the vicar and decides to write about her life & practice her ‘speed-writing’.

This novel is a most genuine coming of age story. Our heroine grows up through these journals, as do her two siblings Thomas and Rose, and the boy who lives with them (a long story), Stephen. The catalyst for the change in their lives comes in a very Pride & Prejudice-esque way: the house up the way is inherited by two (eligible) American brothers who have come to live there. With a sister who is determined to elevate herself from poverty, a father who locks himself in a small room day in and day out without writing a single word, a housemate who drops her love poems as often as he can, and a step-mother who seems to make everything a little bit more bearable, Cassandra’s life never seems to have a dull moment.

I’ve heard great things about this book, and it’s so beloved that many consider it a classic. I, however, did not fall in love with it. Do you know what I mean? Some books grab you from the beginning and you find yourself thinking ‘Good God, this is great writing’, sometimes within the first few pages (my top three books were this way: A Farewell To Arms, Jane Eyre, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society); some books seem to grow on you as you read them, and by the end you’re left dumbstruck, unable to fully comprehend the immense layers of meaning you just visually consumed (The Blind Assassin was this way for me); some books seem to know parts of yourself better than you do and some books become a part of who you are. This book was none of those things for me. It was a very good and very well written book, but I didn’t have the deeper connection with it I thought I might.

Although the styles are different, I Capture the Castle reminds me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. If you like one or the other, I’d recommend you read its counterpart.

Cheers,
Emma.