Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Capture the Castle

"Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can."

When we hear the name Dodie Smith, we probably think of her classic children's story, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, if we think of anything at all. But her first novel, though perhaps not quite as famous, is one that captures the hearts of it readers and leaves an impression that is not easily forgotten.

The Plot:

This is the story of the Mortmain family as told through the journals of the younger daughter, Cassandra. When Cassandra was young, her father leased an ancient castle to live in after his novel became a great success. But as the years have passed the castle has slowly disintegrated into ruins and Mr. Mortmain has been unable (or unwilling) to write anymore. Slowly, the family descends into poverty and each member struggles to keep up appearances.

Then, the Cottons, a wealthy American family, inherit the neighboring estate and become the Mortmain's new landlords. The two sons, Simon and Neil, begin visiting the family and soon Simon is head over heels for Cassandra's older sister, Rose. Unfortunately, Cassandra begins to develop her own feelings for Simon and she begins to see that Roses' feelings are based more on Simon's wealth than on Simon himself. As the story progresses, things get more and more complicated and Cassandra must deal with every emotion imaginable in order to survive.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I'll begin this review by stating the obvious: I totally and completely LOVED this book. The characters, the writing, the story, the setting, everything made for a great reading experience.

First, Cassandra is a wonderful narrator. Though young, her writing is mature and delves into so many complicated emotions and experiences. The style is at once modern and classic, reminding me of a good Austen or Bronte novel. Plus, so many lines from the book jumped out at me, and I would find myself reading them over and over, savoring each like a sweet desert on my tongue. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the novel:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

"How I wished I lived in a Jane Austen novel!"

"Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing."

"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. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don't suppose many people try to do it."

"Ah, but you're the insidious type--Jane Eyre with of touch of Becky Sharp. A thoroughly dangerous girl."

"I wonder if there isn't a catch about having plenty of money? Does it eventually take the pleasure out of things?"

"Stew's so comforting on a rainy day."

The setting was also an interesting aspect of the book. The castle was wonderful, from rainy fall days when the water leaked in to Cassandra's Midsummer rites at the tower to the moonlight swim in the moat. So many parts of the story when the castle itself became a character in its own right. I also liked the play between the British and American characters. Dodie Smith really allows the stereotypes to fall away and allow the characters to be seen for who they truly are, not who we think they are.

Finally, I loved the many references to art, literature, and classical music. You know you are reading a great book when the two main females are laying bed arguing over whether Austen or Bronte is better. And in so many ways, reading this book was like listening to a beautiful piece of classical music. It brought forth so many emotions in me from longing and joy to playfulness and sadness. And I am so grateful for being introduced to Handel's "Water Music" which is quickly becoming one of my favorite pieces.

Honestly, this is the best book I have read so far this year. If you've finished your Austens and Brontes and are ready for something in the same vein, definitely give this one a try. I enjoyed every second of this bittersweet story. Though most readers may have never heard of it, I Capture the Castle is definitely a novel that everyone must read.

The Movie:

In 2003, this story was made into a film starring Romola Garai, Tara Fitzgerald, Sinead Cusack, and Bill Nighy. I haven't been able to find this film, so if you have seen it, please feel free to share your opinion of it.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Here are some random things happening in the world of literature this week.

Across the pond, the London Review Bookshop and the British Museum are hosting a World Literature Weekend. Many authors and translators will be giving talks on the importance of bringing translated works to British readers. Sounds like a fun and thought-provoking weekend. Wish I could be there. HT: Inside Books

The BBC is wondering "Why is To Kill A Mockingbird so popular?". A recent poll placed Harper Lee's immortal story fifth in the hearts of the British people behind Pride and Prejudice but ahead of the Bible. Many of the readers comment that the tale of growing up in the American south was the only book from middle/high school that they actually enjoyed reading. "In the American context, there's a history of adolescent narrators, like Huckleberry Finn, and always a sense of them having their own natural morality because they haven't had time to be corrupted by the world around them." But for those Brits who have actually lived in the region, the story holds less of a fascination. Writer Bonnie Greer says "It came into my consciousness with the movie when I was a schoolgirl. I knew about the book but coming from a family where my dad grew up in the south, we knew all those stories, so it didn't pique my interest as much as other people." It's interesting how the familiar can be less engrossing. I wonder if Britain would seem less enticing and interesting if I actually lived there?

Did you celebrate Bloomsday this year? Every June 16, James Joyce fans celebrate and relive the day that his work Ulysses is based on. The first one was in 1954, created by 5 Irishmen who organized a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route (they didn't finish because they became too drunk). Today, it is celebrated all around the world from New York to Philadelphia to Hungary, and of course Dublin.

For Narnia fans, the official trailer for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is now out. Will a change in director mean a movie that is closer to Lewis' original? I reckon we'll find out in December.

The Classic Tales Podcast is beginning a 9 part series of The Scarlet Pimpernel this week. I'm sooooo excited!

So, is there anything new happening in your corner of the literary world? Feel free to share!

Friday, June 11, 2010

And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

-from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein

"Into the West" performed by Annie Lennox

In loving memory of 1st Lt. Nicholas Bourgeois USMC

Monday, June 7, 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-20: Wishin' and Thinkin' and Hopin' and Prayin'

Is your wishlist as big as your TBR pile? What books are topping your list? Are there any new releases that you are counting down the days for? Share a handful of titles and be sure to share why you want to get your hands on these books! And if another blogger is responsible for that book being on your wishlist, consider sharing a link to their review!

Ah, the wishlist. I'm actually kind of picky as to what books I add to my personal library, so my wish list is not nearly as long as my TBR list. I've actually bought quite a few of my favorites recently, but there are still a few gems out there that I'd love to add to my shelves.

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Christmas Short-Stories by Truman Capote

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Soooo, if you've been wanting to buy me a book but have been putting it off because you just didn't know which one to get, this should give you a place to start. What's on your wishlist?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Story of the Treasure Seekers

"Real life is often something like books."

In 1899, as the world headed into a new century, children's literature was undergoing some major changes. The worlds of Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and Kenneth Grahame were giving way to much different worlds. Worlds in which real children faced real problems and faults. Edith Nesbit was one of the first to usher in this new style with her stories of children who face the unpleasant facts of life with resilience and hope. Her most famous creation, the Bastable family, would have a great influence on many writers to come from P. L. Travers to J. K. Rowling to C. S. Lewis and would leave their mark on children's literature for years to come.

The Plot:

This is the story of the Bastable children: Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H. O. After the death of their mother, their father made a poor financial decision and is now on the brink of ruin. So the children decide to work together to restore the fortunes of their grand and noble house.

Unfortunately, things don't really go according to plan. Their ideas, though grand in themselves, often turn sour and some have unforeseen consequences. From digging for treasure and rescuing a princess to selling Castillian sherry and being detectives, their schemes and plans entangle them in some interesting situations and often gets them into trouble. But the children are determined not to give up, and with the help of their friends like Albert next-door's Uncle and the great author Mrs. Leslie, they continue to put forth every effort to save the family fortune.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I really enjoyed this little gem of a book. I loved its simplicity, its heart, and its adventure. No one who enjoys good children's lit will be disappointed.

In her dedication, Nesbit says that "
The Treasure Seekers is dedicated in memory of childhoods identical but for the accidents of time and space". And that is perhaps the most beautiful thing about this book. No matter what decade or century you grew up in, you will relate to the Bastables. It's easy to remember a time when the problems of life, no matter how big, never quite overshadowed the magic of childhood. Though their father's financial problems cast a shadow over their lives, they continue to enjoy life and barely notice the loss of things like pocket money and new clothes. Their imaginations and books keep them entertained as only children can be.

The children themselves are as likable as any kids you'll meet. They're not bad kids, but they're not perfect angels either. Unlike many literary children of the time period, they have real faults and and do not suffer their trial in sweet perfectness. I love how the narrator of the book says that they will not reveal themselves, but as the story progresses, it becomes very obvious that this rather self-satisfied person is none other than Oswald. The adults in the book are wonderful as well. Albert's uncle is one of the sweetest guys you'll ever meet and is genuinely concerned for his neighbor's children. Mrs. Leslie is a fascinating author whose love of Kipling is infectious. And who can forget that amazing meal with the poor Indian.

Suffice it to say that I truly enjoyed this book. It has found its spot on my "Books I'm Going to Read to My Children" list. As I read the book, I realized that they are what I would want my children to be like. I want my kids to not rely on technology to have fun, but rather to have imaginations that will supply them with years of adventure. If you're looking for a fun and lovely family book, this is a great one. Gather the kids and join the Bastables in their adventures in Lewisham Road.

The Movie:

Nesbit's classic story was brought to the television screen in the 1996 adaptation, The Treasure Seekers. The film stars Camilla Power, Nicholas Farrell, Ian Richardson, Gina McKee, Felicity Jones, Nigel Davenport, and a very young Keira Knightley. It follows the book pretty well, the main differences being that Dicky is cut out, the reality of their financial troubles is much stronger, and the children are older. This is a great family film and one that I highly recommend. Wait 'till you see what they put in the tea.

Trivia: Nicholas Farrell and Nigel Davenport also starred together in the Academy Award winning movie Chariots of Fire.