Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain lives in a ruined Suffolk castle with her poor, yet eccentric family. She keeps a journal, filled with hilarious yet poignant entries about her life. But one major life event occurs between the beginning and the end of these entries - Cassandra has fallen hopelessly in love.

"Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can."

This is a quintessentially English coming-of-age story that is the literary equivalent of rolling yourself up in a big, warm, cosy blanket. It's incredibly humorous yet heartfelt as our narrator very honestly depicts family life in their crumbling castle. When they first moved into the castle, it was meant to be maintained by the royalties made by Cassandra's novelist father. However, the reality is somewhat different. His creativity and willingness to write have dried up, and so too has the money.

There's a whole range of characters to get enchanted by - Cassandra herself, her often-nude and ditzy stepmother Topaz, her selfish yet determined sister Rose, her cold father, the lovesick Stephen (who was adopted into the family yet is head-over-heels for Cassandra), and lastly, the enigmatic and curiously different Simon and Neil Cotton who come from America and turn the Mortmain family dynamics on their head. The story is predictable in some ways, yet completely surprised me in others.

The juxtaposing depiction of the poverty in the Mortmain household alongside the riches and excess in the Cotton homestead is really eye-opening and pretty much forms the basis for the story. Rose no longer wants to be poor, and will do anything to remove herself from the situation in which she finds herself, namely marrying a poor man, because not only will it whisk her away, but it will also ensure the livelihood of her family. Rose isn't particularly likeable - not for me anyway - but our narrator Cassandra is the star of the show anyway. Her interpretations of her family and her own journey as she falls in love and has her heart broken are just so honest and real. She had me laughing out loud one minute and then feeling my heart hurt alongside hers in the next.

I Capture the Castle is so perfectly executed. Definitely not my usual type of read these days, but too much horror and true crime can become pretty monotonous quite quickly - you need to break it up with something heartfelt and romantic (who could ever imagine me saying that!?). I give this one 4 stars - if you're a Jane Austen fan, then it's a must-read.


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