I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Publication date: 2 August 2019 (originally published in 1948)
Page count: 592 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review
I Capture the Castle is one of those great childhood classics that I never managed to read when I was actually a kid. But after some persuading (pressure) from my sister Julia on our podcast, I decided to pick it up for the first time. Despite having seen the movie ages ago, I didn’t remember much of the plot so it felt like a fresh and new reading experience.
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…’
This is the diary of Cassandra Mortmain, which tells of her extraordinary family and their crumbling castle home. Cassandra’s father was once a famous writer, but now he mainly reads detective novels while his family slide into genteel poverty. Her sister Rose is bored and beautiful, and desperate to marry riches. Their step-mother Topaz has habit of striding through the countryside wearing only her wellington boots. But all their lives will be soon be transformed by the arrival of new neighbours from America, and Cassandra finds herself falling in love…
There’s something about this book that evokes childhood nostalgia and comfort — reading it was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a rainy day. I’m not entirely how she managed to make me not only nostalgic for a book I never read as a kid, but also nostalgic for a period of time that I never lived in. I absolutely love the setting, particularly the castle itself, where the majority of the book takes place. Smith manages to build the setting that is so beautiful and somehow magical — you can really see yourself there and feel right at home with the Mortmains.
The characters are what really make this book special. They’re all so quirky in a way you don’t often think about in classic novels. I love the fact that they’re all from perfect — that’s half the fun. Cassandra is our narrator and she’s got such a strong voice. You really see her change and evolve over the few months the novel takes place. I have to admit that my patience with her did wear a little thin in the last two thirds of the book — she became so incredibly obsessive and possessive and I really struggled with her point of view.
In a book that is essentially the diary of one character, it would be easy for Cassandra’s voice to drown out all the others. However, the incredibly memorable scenes with her family and the neighboring wealthy family really gives each character a chance to shine. From Rose’s desperation to marry out of poverty to their father’s role as a tortured writer and Topaz’s communing with nature, everyone feels like a fully-fleshed out and realistic character.
I really enjoyed I Capture the Castle and I am so pleased I finally gave myself the chance to read it. I can totally understand why it continues to be so beloved and why Julia loves it so much. If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily enjoy classics but wants a place to start, I’d highly recommend picking this up.
Want to buy a copy of I Capture the Castle? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):