Thursday, August 14, 2014

Staff Pick - I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Although the film has been one of my favourites for a few years now, I only recently read the book for I Capture the Castle (1949). I was delighted to find that the novel easily outstripped the film. Dodie Smith, known primarily for her children's book Hundred and One Dalmatians, also wrote prolifically for adults in a variety of novels and plays.

Narrated by the charismatic 17 year old Cassandra Mortmain, this bildungsroman style novel is in the form of a journal that she keeps during a particularly turbulent time for her family. The Mortmain family, in spite of their living in an ancient moated castle, are destitute. The father, a brilliant and groundbreaking author, has not written a word in many years, becoming ever more withdrawn from his family and his young wife Topaz as his shame and frustration deepens. The three women attempt to make ends meet, but Cassandra and her sister Rose dream of the day when they will leave their poverty behind.

When the owner of the surrounding estate (and of the castle that the Mortmain family lives in) dies, the American inheritors - the Cottons - arrive in town to change the fortunes of the Mortmain family. Rose sets her sights on Simon, the eldest son, going to sometimes embarrassing lengths to catch his eye. Cassandra, still very young and naive, struggles to understand her feelings about Simon and Neil Cotton, as well as about Stephen, the young man who lives with the Mortmain family.

With almost painful realism, and insights into the pitfalls of growing up and falling in love, Cassandra records her often painful, and yet endearingly amusing transition out of childhood. I found this book immensely enjoyable because of the combination of the vivid characters and the dilapidated castle which draws them all together.

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