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.

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