Friday, March 14, 2014

Rereading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleI write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy.

From the back cover: "I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"-- and the heart of the reader-- in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments."

I remember enjoying I Capture the Castle when I first read it; however, I don't remember loving it. This time I did; it's such an entertaining, clever, and beautiful book. It still feels so, so fresh, even though it was published over 65 years ago, and I found myself laughing and sharing Cassandra's joys and sorrows. 

Cassandra is by turns humorous, thoughtful, and witty. She makes a great many observations about her life, people in general, and the place she lives in, and many of her musings rang true to me. She's really a great narrator, and her descriptions of the little country town she lives by are marvelous. Godsend has all the hallmarks of a quiet, picturesque little English village with a quirky old castle overlooking it; this is obviously very romantic, but it's balanced by the fact that Cassandra and her family are living in extreme poverty, and their situation is precarious, absurd, and not a little comic. The whole set-up is one that's great for a story; clearly, the Mortmain family needs some help, and this comes in the form of the two Cotton brothers, although not as you might expect.

I enjoyed all of the characters, from the denizens of the castle to the people who arrive and shake things up a bit. I did find Cassandra's sudden falling in love a bit unrealistic, but I suppose that's how love can be sometimes. Anyway, Cassandra is definitely charismatic, and so are Simon and Neil Cotton.

There's plenty of action and suspense in this book, but it's also a quiet and tranquil read. The things that happen are like little ripples on a pond. There's nothing flashy or violent, and nothing is ever life and death, but I still read the book pretty quickly, wanting to know what would happen. At the same time, I didn't want to have to be finished reading, so I tried to conserve sections of the novel. You know something's really good when you want to be immersed in it forever. 

I remembered almost nothing about I Capture the Castle, but every so often there was one page or two that triggered a vague memory; it was quite odd, and the science of that would be interesting to study. For example, there was one page that wasn't even a very important one in the story where Simon sends Cassandra a big box of chocolates, and somehow it triggered something buried way back in my brain. There were a couple of other instances like that too.

I marked many passages as being of merit, both because of the ideas in them and because of the quality of the writing. Cassandra is seventeen, and she's figuring out lots of things about love and life, about who she is, and what she wants to do. For example, the middle paragraph on page 122 is quite interesting and well-written; it's a bit too long to quote in full though. Read more intriguing and witty quotes here on the Goodreads page for them.

Cassandra's narration is very British, and I quite like it. She's fanciful and matter-of-fact at the same time, full of melancholy but remarkably clearheaded. The setting is also quite lovely, and provides an excellent backdrop for the events.

I wanted a less ambiguous ending to this one; it would have been nice for everything to have turned out very well and for the events to be resolved neatly like in a Jane Austen novel. However, that didn't happen. I was surprised by how much I loved this one reading it a second time; I was able, perhaps to appreciate more of the subtleties. It's a book that I know I'll cherish.

343 pages. 

Rating: *****

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