1948. 352 pages (paperback)
From: The public library
In a nutshell:
17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain lives in a rundown castle with her family, sometime in the mid-20th century. When two brothers, the adult grandsons of the Mortmains’ recently deceased landlord, arrive to check the inheritance, it means change for everyone in the family. In a series of insightful and witty journal entries, Cassandra captures all of these changes as well as her own coming-of-age.
I am always impressed by writing that successfully articulates the life of the mind – that feel psychologically real. I love reading a passage that manages to describe an idea, mood or emotion in such a way that I go: ‘Yes, I know exactly what that is but had never been able to capture it in words before.”
I Capture the Castle does that. Sure, plenty of things happen in the novel, but the book is distinguished not by plot alone, but by its understanding of people. We are complicated packets of changing motivations and contradictions and Dodie Smith conveys this through the clever voice of Cassandra Mortmain.
Cassandra is a thoroughly likable narrator, clear-eyed but conscious that she has much to learn about life. The rest of the characters are engaging as well, as seen through the prism of her viewpoint.
Most passages of the book would do for an excerpt, but I’ll pick one that demonstrates Cassandra’s (and Dodie Smith’s) wry humor. Simon, one of the two brothers, has fallen for Cassandra’s beautiful sister Rose and is talking to Cassandra about it:
He went on to talk of her for quite a quarter of a mile . . . Everything Rose does is original, apparently, even the way she dances, inventing little steps of her own. And she is so intelligent – he kindly said I was, too, but Rose is a wit (a fact not as yet disclosed to her family).
I had to laugh at Cassandra’s parenthetical comment. I can imagine her surreptitious raising of eyebrows at hearing this particular praise of her sister, who is vivacious but not particularly witty.
I Capture the Castle is definitely one that I will purchase down the road. All those who spoke to me of this book did so with great affection and I will now join their ranks.