Bibliophile reviews I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

(I finally gave in and cheated on the shelf challenge...)

Year originally published: 1948
Genre: Novel
Setting & time: England, 1940s

The Story: The book is written with 17 year old Cassandra Montmain as a narrator. She is keeping a journal in which she tries to capture the character of castle she lives in and all its inhabitants. Her father once wrote a very important book, but has not written a thing in 12 years, her artist's model stepmother is wildly eccentric but also rather domestic at heart, her sister Rose is willing to sell her soul to the devil to take herself and her family out of their poverty-stricken situation (they have no regular income), and Stephen, who is a sort of servant and sort of family member, is very much in love with Cassandra, who cares for him very much but is not romantically interested in him.
The arrival of two brothers in the neighbourhood bodes changes in the family's fortunes, and here I think I will say no more, as this book is hard to review without spoilers.

Technique and plot: In this book, Dodie Smith has managed to capture the essence of a teenage girl on the verge of becoming a woman and falling in love for the fist time, and the turmoil of feelings involved in the process. But the book is much more than that. It is a wonderful portrait of a family of eccentrics who immediately made me think of two families in other books: the Starkadders from Cold Comfort Farm, and the Durrell family as described in various books by Gerald Durrell.

The narrative is by turns funny and sad and the characterisations realistic. Cassandra is a good narrator although not a very good judge of character sometimes and looks at her world with eyes open to the family's difficult situation but is also quite cheerful about it, having long ago learned to accept what has been handed out to her by fate. Rose, on the other hand, is not someone to accept a life of endless poverty and lack of new clothes and enough food, and she is really the driving force of the story. It is her decision to marry into money that gives Cassandra some juicy material to write about. While one sometimes wants to give Rose a good shaking, she still continues to be a sympathetic character because Cassandra always loves her in spite of everything she does. The father is the least well drawn character in the book, which is deliberate because Cassandra simply doesn't understand him, and the stepmother is a wonderfully eccentric character.

Rating: A wonderful story told in the voice of a young woman of character. 4+ stars.


ellebelle said…
I am reading 'I capture the Castle' and am absolutely hooked!It is one of the best books I have ever read!
Bibliophile said…
I agree, it is very good. I'm planning on renting the movie one of these days and I hope it will turn out to have captured the spirit of the book.
Janna said…
bibliophile, have you watched the movie yet? I'm a pretty tough critic of books turned into movies, but, for the most part, I was impressed with this one. I'm rereading the book right now, and it makes me want to go and watch the movie again!
Bibliophile said…
Janna, no I still haven't seen the movie. I will some day, but I have about 300 books to read first ;-)

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