Saturday, January 16, 2010


I just finished I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I'd heard of the book before, and the jacket gushed how it was one of the most beloved books ever, that it was finally back in print, that it was a delightful read. I took the bait.

I enjoyed it well enough, but I think this is one of those books that has its strongest appeal for girls of a certain age, maybe 10 to 17 or so. Something in its tone and tenor reminded me very much of L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle. I've probably read that book several hundred times during my life, to the point where I scarcely need the book to re-read it. But if I came across it now, I probably wouldn't like it as much, even though I'm closer to Valancy's age now than I was then (in fact, now I'm older than Valancy. I believe she was 26 or 27 in the book).

I Capture The Castleis the tale of the Mortmain family, as told by 17-year old Cassandra. To me, the best part of the book was the opening, when it was just them. Cassandra's mother is dead. Her dad wrote a very, very famous book that redefined the boundaries of literature and philosophy -- but that was well over a decade ago, the money's gone, and he hadn't written anything since. Her older sister Rose, dreams of finer things. Their young stepmother, Topaz, is a nudist and artist's model who views herself as a helpmate to Mr. Mortmain's genius. They have a younger brother, Thomas, and a boy named Stephen who does chores in exchange for his board (such as it is). They live in an old ruined castle, with literally no money at all.

Technically, they rent, but at the start of the book, their landlord has died and they haven't heard anything from his estate. That changes when his grandsons come crashing in from America.

Neil and Simon never really captured my imagination, but they sure did that of the girls. The rest of the book revolves around their confused love affairs with the boys.

I think I had a hard time with this book because few of the mains seemed to emerge as characters in their own right. I had a hard time picturing any of them, or predicting how they might act. The middle of the book dragged to me, as Rose prepared to marry the same one that Cassandra had fallen for. The ending was as sharp, surprising and heartbreaking as the beginning. But sadly, I feel that for me, I missed this one. Had I read it as a teenager, I probably would have loved it as much as Susan Issacs and several other prominent authors proclaim that they do on the dust-jacket. But as it is, I thought it was just OK.