I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are certain books which form the bedrock of British children’s literature. Tom’s Midnight Garden is one, Carrie’s War is another and I Capture The Castle is a third. Written by the great Dodie Smith (perhaps more well known for her books featuring dashing spotty dogs and evil ladies with amazing hair), I Capture The Castle is an oddly beautiful thing.
And oh, how it aches. The diary of Cassandra Mortmain (was this the beginnings of my obsession with this name? I think so, yes, maybe), is split into three different notebooks, and it is the story of her eccentric existence ( her richly English existence, too, living the very embodiment of ‘his home is his castle’) and her glorious life in the ruined castle she calls home.
It is, as I mentioned, a book which aches, for this is the time in Cassandra’s life where everything changes. She learns of a woman’s ‘power’; of what she and her sister can be, and how love is on the edge of their horizon. There are not many people that can write love so elegantly and eloquently as this. Adele Geras is one, KM Peyton is another, and Dodie Smith is a third.
I am suddenly intrigued about how I keep thinking of this book as a corner, as a bedrock of literature, of how I keep thinking of it as the brick in the wall of story. It is one of those stories which just is, so beautifully, it is. It is slow, rich, and far too swift in points, shifting from moments that I long to dwell on through to others that I’d rather pass. And it is confusing, and brave, and challenging and inconclusive; which is everything life is, it always is and will be.
I love this book. I love the fat, fat Sunday Lunch richness of it and the way it makes me long for a moat and a kitchen sink big enough to sit in. And I love how it proves that writing, that scratching words out onto a page (‘the squat pen rests / I’ll dig with it’) can find who and what you are so beautifully that there’s no point in ignoring it. We are, we are, we are.
We are living our story and whatever shape it takes, this is the way it has to be. Cassandra’s last, beautiful words sum that up so perfectly.
It is a sort of magic, this book.
10 thoughts on “I Capture The Castle : Dodie Smith”
It is a wonderful, wonderful book but I’ve never been convinced it is a children’s book, nor even a young adult’s book. I think to truly appreciate the portrait of Cassandra you need to have some distance between you and her in age. I otherwise agree with everything you’ve said!
That’s quite possible though I do think it is very much young adult in places. However, I do think I read it differently now to what I did when I first discovered it (as a wee whippersnapper, etc, etc). I know when I read it beforehand, I couldn’t stand Topaz but now I really rather love her. Hmm, I am intrigued! Thank you for making me ponder! 🙂
I think you make a good point, I first read it as an adult and I do remember thinking that I probably would have approached it slightly differently as a teenager, and possibly not understood it as well. Unfortunately I can’t time travel so we’ll never know! I have some friends who think you shouldn’t reread childhood favourites as an adult as it ‘spoils’ them. I disagree, you may lose the magic of that first reading or you may have grown out of your teenage obsession with a character, but I think you are able to appreciate it even more with a bit of life experience.
I know I’ve heard of this book, but maybe it didn’t achieve such classic status in the States as I’ve never read it…. I’m not sure why not, but your review certainly makes me want to read it.
Let me know if you do, I’d be so interested to hear what you think! 🙂
I too only read this book as an adult, although I had heard of it for years before actually reading it. Something held me back – that it was so fondly remembered by all? – and I didn’t think it could live up to its reputation. I wonder what I would have made of it as a young and more romantically-inclined reader? As it was I loved the setting, the characters, and, best of all, the attention to detail about money and food and so on! I’m sure this aspect would have passed me by earlier.
Aah, lovely, yet more to ponder, thank you! 😀 I do wonder what it’ll be like when I reread this in a couple of years time, whether my empathies change? Something to look forward too!