Review: I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



**To be precise, this is a 4.5 bordering on 5. **

What an absolute treasure. This was a book club pick of mine, and it was actually a last minute shift from a dystopian novel I’d previously suggested. Our world, though, is starting to look more and more like dystopia, and I feared that layering a bleak reality with a foray into a bleak fictional world would sap me of any of the hope and positivity I have left. So, in effort to really embrace escapism to its fullest, I Capture the Castle became the book of choice. And I don’t believe I could have chosen a more perfectly delightful book to fall into.This is the story of a young (dare I say consciously naive?) girl Cassandra and her family, living in a crumbling castle with precious little in the way of resources. The tale is presented via the journal entries of our heroine, broken into 3 parts (each a different journal). To be granted access into her mind feels like such a rich, delicious literary luxury… a stark juxtaposition to the poverty that is apparent from the first few pages. Cassandra is a girl with a fertile imagination, and an almost too lovely way of seeing the world. But Cassandra is just one of the many joys housed within these pages. Because this… this was one of those books where I didn’t so much care about the story, as I cared about the time I spent with the elaborately fleshed out cast of characters. Quite a kooky cast they were, too. I wanted to commune with nature at Topaz’s side. I wanted to read Stephen’s plagiarized poems and delight in his shyness. I wanted to talk literature with Mortmain (and hopefully do a better job of it than Topaz), and drive to the English seaside with Simon and Neil. I wanted to step inside the pages and become a part of their world.

That world… it was fanciful and realistic all at once. The family lives in a castle, like princes and princesses of old, but it’s a decrepit castle that offers none of the comforts of modernity. Chilling drafts in the night can only be remedied by using one of the two family pets as a makeshift blanket. To make ends meet, the family has had to sell off most of the furniture, and anything else of value. Strict budgeting of food and tea make it so that there is little comfort to be found in the material, but much solace in contemplation (as Cassandra makes full use of). Still, the sense one gets is of a family making the best of a rather uncomfortable economic situation. As the reader follows their journey through Cassandra’s eyes, it’s interesting to note the impact that their state of poverty has on the story, but also, perhaps, on Cassandra’s experience of the world around her.

What started as a deceptively light and carefree read, turned into a more complex, layered experience than I’d realized I was in for at the first sitting. I’m happy to report that it was excellent discussion fodder at book club. The book seemed to start off in the realm of Austen, and end somewhere within the space of Fitzgerald. There were a great many themes to explore… the English vs. the American experience, the implications of being rich vs. poor, what it meant to be a woman in the early 1900s, and romantic alliances and all the complexities of falling in love (or failing to fall in love).

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the book was Cassandra’s writing and the window into her mind. Her voice is just enchanting. It’s intelligent, but childish. Insightful, but sometimes almost laughably unaware. Some of my favorite nuggets of Cassandra wisdom and observations include:

“When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it—or rather, it is like living it.”
“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”
“Americans do seem to say things which make the English notice England.”
“So many of the loveliest things in England are melancholy.”
“Truthfulness so often goes with ruthlessness.”
“The climate of richness must always be a little dulling to the senses. Perhaps it takes the edge of joy as well as off sorrow.”
“I have noticed that rooms which are extra clean feel extra cold.”

This book was one that frequently had me breaking into a huge toothy grin. It managed to give me butterflies as I read, and yes, I genuinely laughed aloud multiple times… in public… unabashedly. Candy, but more nourishing. Nature’s candy (i.e. fruit), is what this book was. It was like strolling along a British meadow, finding a patch of brilliant red raspberries, and satiating your heart and your hunger with the sweetly sour treat, all while basking in the sun of a warm summer’s day.
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2 thoughts on “Review: I Capture the Castle

  1. Loved your book review. You know Grandma always preferred reading the reviews to reading the books. I also love reading Economist reviews cos I get the gist without reading the book.

    But your review is a delight in itself. It doesn’t replace reading the book but it is a work of art in its own right. More, more, more.

    Liked by 1 person

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