I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Recommended by Cassie at Scads of Books. Also recommended by Carrie K. at Mommy Brain.

This book also happened to be the first book in a new project: our new Family Reading Club. My sister and I together chose this book for June because both of us had been planning to read it. So far the Family Reading Club includes just me and my sis. But we’re planning to get others involved: Mom? Eldest Daughter?

I liked I Capture the Castle very much; Sis J was a bit lukewarm. The first interesting thing about the book was really about the author: Dodie Smith also wrote 101 Dalmatians, the story that was the inspiration for the Disney movie. Castle, as far as I can tell, has little or nothing in common with Dalmatians, aside from a tendency toward quirky, eccentric characters.

I guess it was the characters that “captured” me. I Capture the Castle is narrated by sevevteen year old Cassandra, who ives in somewhat genteel poverty in a drafty old castle with her older sister, her artist’s model stepmother, and her washed-up writer father. The only hope for the family to get out of poverty is for one of the girls to marry someone rich. (This is starting to sound like a Jane Austen novel, but it’s not like that at all.)

Cassandra tells the story in her journal. She’s a wonderful narrator, witty, insightful, and honest. Cassandra’s sister Rose is the pretty one, and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to get the family some money. Stepmother Topaz is a model for various famous artists, but by the time she pays her expenses in London while she’s modelling, she doesn’t bring home much income. Father James Mortmain wrote one highly praised novel, very popular in America, but after spending a couple of years in prison for a crime that was never committed, James got a bad case of writer’s block. All he does is read mystery stories and work crossword puzzles and show up for dinner expecting miraculous loaves and fishes.

Into this rather chaotic family, which also includes a Heathcliff-ish servant with a crush on Cassandra, walk two rich Americans, Neil and Simon Cotton. Rose is sure she’s going to marry one of the brothers; she doesn’t really care which one. And Cassandra is both an interested observer and a willing accomplice to Rose’s rather clumsy machinations. The book turns into a tragicomedy as Cassandra grows up and begins to realize that she has romantic feelings of her own. I really liked the ending of the book; let it suffice to say that the ending was not trite and expected.

A minor discussion in the book was of great interest to me. Cassandra considers escape from her feelings of unrequited love by burying herself in religion or in good works. She’s essentially a pagan with Christian cultural clothing, but she sees others who are happy in their churchiness or in doing good. So Cassandra thinks she could do the same and thereby achieve peace and emotional detachment. However, she decides finally that she’d rather hurt (better to have loved and lost) than take refuge in Christianity or even simple goodness. I think she has a very simplistic view of Christianity, but maybe for a seventeen year old who hasn’t been properly taught what being a Christian is all about, she’s fairly advanced in her thinking. I wanted to tell her that being a Christian doesn’t help you to avoid suffering and pain; it only gives you a framework in which to evaluate and give meaning to the suffering and emotional pain that is unavoidable in life. But of course, I had to remind myself that Cassandra is a fictional character.

Do you ever want to talk back to the characters in your books? Please tell me I’m not the only one.

The July book for our Family Book Club is The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton. You’re welcome to claim us as family and read it, too. Or not claim us and still read the book. SisJ’s already read the book; I still have to pick it up from the hold shelf at the library.

4 thoughts on “I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

  1. I wasn’t sure about this book, which is rare in my reading adventures. On one hand, I thought it excellent because it captures what a girl at that age thinks and the family is very interesting. The writing is beautiful.

    At the same time, I thought it a dysfunctional and strange family (which is, of course, what makes them so interesting). I, too, wanted to crawl within the pages of the book and tell them there is Truth!

    I think it is one of those books I would like better when I reread it, even if the surprise ending is already known. It’s definitely a book that can be reread many times as there are so many layers to think about within its’ pages.

    It would have been fun to read this together when my daughter was a teenager and hear her thoughts.

  2. Not only do I want to talk to them, I find myself thinking I should pray for them! Crazy, huh?

  3. Did you watch the movie, too, to compare/contrast it with the book?

    We got the movie from Netflix and didn’t even know there was a book.

    Thanks for the review.

  4. Oh VERY fun! I look forward to reading this. (I have it on hold at the library . . . waiting for my turn to read it!)

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