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I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – Quirky, Young Adultish and a Classic

21st June, 2016

Book Review : I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

From the creator of The 101 Dalmatians and Cruella de Vil, is a story about a young girl in a castle – this is Smith at her finest, snarky yet real. I am one of the few who read this book recently, as an adult and I must admit it was one of the best decisions I made in my reading life.

Cassandra Mortmain and her family live in a crumbling castle with finances so bad that they buy food by selling their remaining furniture. The unexpected arrival of the rich American brothers who have inherited the neighbouring home, sends Rose into a fever of husband-hunting. But does she find the right guy? Does Cassandra fall in love? Does the entry of the Americans make things better for the Mortmain family or were they better off living in poverty?

WHY QUIRKY?

I Capture the Castle is a book filled with hilarious moments and subtle thoughts looming in the mind of a teenage girl. This one is definitely a fun read.

1. “I WRITE THIS SITTING IN THE KITCHEN SINK”

The opening line “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” pulls you right into the novel. You are confused. Why would someone sit in a kitchen sink? Why is she writing in the sink? Is something wrong? Why would she write if something is? Or is everything okay? Why would one sit in a sink if all is well? You cannot ignore that sudden rush of bookish blood through your body and not continue reading.

Also 99.9% of the fans of this book will talk about this sentence (and that includes me).

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

2. THE CHARACTERS :

The book has the quirkiest characters ever. Cassandra (our seventeen year old diary writer), her sister Rose (whose sole ambition is to marry a rich guy), her step mother, Topaz (ex- model who is known for roaming around naked on the grounds), her father (eccentric, unproductive novelist who has written nothing after one modernist best seller and isn’t concerned about the household in the least bit), Stephen (the adopted handsome live-in-help who is hopelessly in love with Cassandra and copies love poems to her from books). And oh! There is a dog named Heloise and a cat named Alecard. What more can you want?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

3. AMERICANS VS ENGLISH :

The flavor of Cassandra’s diary changes when they get new landlords in the form of two American brothers. The clash between the American and British style of speaking, mannerisms and even table manners (OH! YES) are hilarious.

4. MIDSUMMER EVE :

Every year, on Midsummer Eve, Cassandra holds rites at the foot of the tower. They include spell casting around a volatile fire, chanting and dancing. Now, how can anyone resist that?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

WHY IT WILL APPEAL TO YA LOVERS :

Of course I Capture the Castle is a YA novel. Here is why YA fans will love it.

1. CASTLE:

The whole story happens in a HUGE castle in the Sussex countryside. There is a moat, there is a tower, there are cold dingy rooms and there are spacious unfurnished ones. Also, the book boasts of every kind of moments – the creepy fearful ones, the romantic tug-your-heart string ones and also the ones that will break your heart.

2. IMPORTANT QUESTIONS AND WORDS OF WISDOM :

Would you be an Emily or Charlotte Bronte? Do you know speed writing? Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?

And no bathroom on earth will make up for marrying a bearded man you hate.” 

Yes, Cassandra is full of thoughts. And she writes them all.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

3. CASSANDRA IS NASTY :

Don’t get me wrong. She is nasty because she is so truthful in her writing. She writes about everything, her shortcomings, her fears and the mindset of the unusual inhabitants of the castle. This is one of the few books out there written as a journal and reads like an honest unedited diary of a teenage girl.

4. COMING OF AGE STORY OF A HOPELESS DAYDREAMER :

Cassandra daydreams about boys the way all teenage girls do. She spends time imagining herself marrying or having lusty time or fantasizing about being in love. Totally relateable.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

5. SISTERLY LOVE AKA BFF :

The affection (and also the fights) between Rose and Cassandra is wonderfully described. It is Cassandra’s truthful portrayal of their situation that made me non judgmental about her sister’s desire to marry a rich guy.

6. ROMANCE :

This book is young love at its best – whether it be Stephen trying hard to impress Cassandra, Cassandra being unsure of herself, Rose thinking she can fall in love after getting married or Neil, the American brother, being cynical of love -this book has it all.

AND WHY IT IS A CLASSIC

I Capture the Castle maybe quirky and young adultish, but it is a classic in its own right. This was Dodie Smith’s first novel and she spend seven years editing it because she wanted it to be perfect. And it nearly is.

1. ARE YOU AND AUSTEN OR A BRONTE?

There must be no Classics lover who has not been part of this debate. Cassandra asks the same question. There are references to the books she reads and it is like talking to a book lover over tea.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

2. SIMILAR IDEAS AS WOOLF :

Cassandra shares her room with her sister Rose. And she does feel the need of A Room of One’s own which is the gist of Virginia Woolf’s famous essay. Woolf’s essay also looks into why women lack a literary position as profound as men, citing poverty, lack of education and domestic responsibilities as the fundamental reasons which is exactly the situation Cassandra is in.

3. THE QUOTES (Grab your highlighter) :

There are so many amazing quotes in this book. My whole Kindle is highlighted in different colors. Two of them :

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.”

“There is something revolting about the way girls’ minds so often jump to marriage long before they jump to love.”

THE THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME :

  1. The ending is too sudden and abrupt.
  2. Cassandra’s dad! Why doesn’t anyone ask him to act like a grown up an take some responsibilities?
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

WHAT THE TITLE MEANS TO ME?

The beginning of the novel is much like an Austen household and the women want to secure a good match and thus conquer the castle, like Rose’s aspirations. Cassandra shares this ideology at the beginning of the novel, but later changes her stand. For Cassandra, capturing the castle represents her finding her identity and making sense of the world and people around her as she transforms from a naïve teenager to an adult. Or perhaps she only hopes to capture the essence of her life in the pages of her diary.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

FINAL VERDICT

A whimsical read with witty prose and marvelous characters.  Cassandra is an enchanting narrator who takes you along as she tries to capture the castle in the most humorous and magnificent way imaginable. If you haven’t read this already, pick it up! This is required reading for every bookworm.

Title : I Capture the Castle
Author : Dodie Smith
Publisher : Vintage
Published : 2012 (Originally in 1948)
Language : English
Pages : 592
Rating : 4.5/5

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Have you read I Capture the Castle? Did you love the read or not? Have you watched the TV adaptation of ICTC?

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I Capture the Castle

About the Author

Dorothy (Dodie) Smith was an English children’s novelist and playwright, known best for the novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956). Other works include I Capture the Castle (1948), and The Starlight Barking (1967). Her novel I Capture the Castle was adapted into a 2003 movie version. It was voted  82 as “one of the nation’s 100 best-loved novels” by the British public as part of the BBC’s The Big Read (2003).

This Post Has 59 Comments
  1. This is such a deeply fantastic book. I also read it as an adult, some time ago now. Thanks for your review, which made me want to read it all over again. It’s so eccentric without being twee, so wonderfully real.
    And I actually liked the ending.

  2. I absolutely love this book! It’s definitely one of my favourites 🙂 this is an amazing review! I think you’ve highlighted all the reasons why it’s a perfect read. I wasn’t so bothered by the ending though – I felt like Cassandra was finally able to capture herself (and not the castle).

    Also, I’ve noticed your header picture has My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. I was planning on reading that soon! What are your thoughts on it? 🙂

    1. Glad to know that you agree about I Capture the Castle. Thanks for visiting.

      My name is Red is not a fav Pamuk of mine. I did like the book though, if not love it. The writing is brilliant. I cannot imagine how a writer could write so much about minature painting and artists. The detailing is excellent. If you like books with good writing, you will enjoy the read.

  3. I adore Capture the Castle and discovered it far along into my adulthood – wondering why I’d never discovered it before. It is a masterpiece. Thanks so much for this great, great review of it. Re: the father – I think there is a lot of sexism in the way he is treated and revered vs. how a woman would be treated. However, I wouldn’t have wanted to see him told to grow up and take responsibility. That would have taken away some of the power of the story, it would have tamed it, and male artists were catered to in this way at that time, so it is realistic. As someone who has been trying to write a memoir and who sees a lot of herself in him, I was glad that he was allowed to sink so low and wallow around, and then be forced to create, to find his way out of himself. He was able to do that, which I found empowering, although I know he had his very dark side. However, we all do, and there is something liberating about seeing this written about honestly.

    1. Thank you for your insightful comments. I am glad you are able to see how honest the portrayal of the father figure is. It is true that a writer can never whip up stories. He needs his time and space. However I did feel he was too relaxed about the situation at his home, especially since they found it hard to buy food also. But you are right in the point you put forward that the story would lose the brilliance it has now if the father was otherwise.

      All the best for writing the memoir

  4. What a great review! You’ve reminded me of all the things I loved about this book. Cassandra is a wonderful narrator, and yes, that first line is unforgettable. 🙂

  5. Lovely review! I adore this book. I read it as an adult too, probably about 8 years ago. I am due for a reread!

    I just watched the movie version last week for the first time. It was fantastic! Have you seen it? The young lady who plays Cassandra is just gorgeous, and Bill Nighy is the dad, Rose Byrne is the sister, and it’s just a great adaptation.

    1. Thank you! So glad to know that I capture the castle is a favourite of yours too. I really enjoyed reading it. And yes, you should totally re read it.

      I have not seen the full movie, only parts of it. I should watch the whole version. I am positive it would be as good as the book

  6. Wow. You clearly liked that book. 🙂 The opening line is indeed quite enough to make you want to dive into the book.
    (I really need to move to a city with a real english bookstore nearby. There is one, but it sucks…)
    Have a lovely week, in the kitchen sink.
    😉
    Brian

    1. Hehe. Thanks. I did enjoy the read. It was funny at times while it made me grave at others. Hope you have a lovely week too. And who knows, maybe a good bookstore will open up near your house.

  7. I want to read this one so badly. So many people praise it, but I haven’t gotten the opportunity to read it. I absolutely loved your review and it just makes me more impatient to get to it. Thank you for all your wonderful thoughts about this one!

    1. Thank you. I hope you will be able to get a copy soon. It really is a fun read. And what is more, Cassandra is very very truthful about everything. SO it reads like an actual diary instead of a book

  8. I’ve had this on my list for quite some time now, but it’s always good to get a reminder of what I have in store. Great review! 🙂

  9. Wonderful review! This is definitely a classic I need to read/catch-up on, and now it sounds even more appealing 🙂 (I love quirky, and WOW that first sentence – YES, huh, what? I want to know what happens next). Thank you.

  10. So glad to see that you enjoyed this book. It’s on my Classics Club list, so I’m going to save it for a time when I’m in need of a treat. Good to know there’s so much to look forward to.

  11. This sounds PERFECT. Particularly the British vs American. And it never occurred to me but it’s true. It jumps to marriage long before it jumps to love. Surprising how we don’t really notice that.

  12. Oh wow, it seems like you managed to really love this book! I enjoy a good hilarious read from time to time, and even that first line there sounds unique. I also really appreciate the whole American vs English thing, because being English myself I always see the humor in those kind of debates 😀 Nothing about this book that puts me off in the slightest, so I’ll probably feel compelled to pick it up myself at some point.

    1. I am sure you would be able to appreciate the American British differences. Or maybe such differences are lesser now. This book was written a while ago, right? They did add to the humour in the writing.

  13. I love this book, it’s right up in there in my top ten of all time, just the thing if stuck on the desert island. I was also annoyed about her dad, I suppose as a father in those times his authority was unquestionable by the rest of his family, but he needed help, or a slap! The end is a bit sudden, I always felt there should have been a sequel, written when she was about 21.

    1. I guess you are right. Maybe there was no option to question a patriarchial household. A sequel would have been lovely. The open ending makes me so nervous. If there had been a sequel I hope it would have been a happy one – a happy ending for Cassandra

  14. Brilliant review. it really is witty prose and one of those books that you really enjoy the experience of reading. You have a great knack for picking out titles. I’ve a beautiful copy somewhere, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Although the Bronte/Austen debate is going worry me for a while! I’d hate to imagine a world without either!

      1. Haha, good compromise! Although the Bronte Bunch didnt exactly have easy lives…this is going to require more thought and maybe some ‘research’ indulging in a few revisits to books and films :p Oh, and I don’t actually have a copy of I capture the castle -shock horror. The copy I was thinking of was actually ‘I’m the king of the castle’ by Susan Hill in penguin decades. It’s very pretty but not half as much fun to read as Dodie Smith.

        1. True. The Brontes had really difficult lives. I am sure the Austens had them too. But somehow Jane Austen has focussed on the happy things such as balls and parties. Glad you got the copy issue sorted out. I have not heard of the book by Susan Hill. I will have to look for it. 🙂

  15. Would it be shocking to say that I’ve never heard of this book? :s Probably. I don’t know how it flew over my radar…but it does sound delightful.
    May I ask what drove you to read this book now? Did the mood suddenly strike you or someone bring it to your attention recently?

    1. No worries Naz. I heard about the book a few years back. Even I was ignorant before that. And then when I came to know it is written by the person who wrote 101 Dalmations I got curious. I picked up the book because of four reasons :
      1. I read a quote that says “I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.” I found a lot of truth in that simple sentence.
      2. When I checked for reviews of the book they all started with ” I write sitting in a kitchen sink” and I got curious. And I didnt read the reviews but bought the book for the fear of spoilers.
      3. I read about the writer. And how much she missed her home when she was elsewhere and also how she edited it for nearly seven years. Later on she admitted ICTC is a favourite of hers. And biographers say Cassandra is pure ‘Dodie’. It seeemed interesting to know about a character that is so close to the writer’s heart. Also I wanted to know how different it would be from 101 Dalmations (havent read. but love the movie and cartoon) to be such a well loved book.

      I must say the ending disappointed me a bit. Especially the change in Cassandra’s dad. But otherwise, it is like a truthful innocent teenager speaking.

  16. I absolutely love I Capture the Castle!!! It’s been a good few years since I read it, but reading your review brought back so many happy memories. Definitely one for my reread pile, methinks.

  17. This review is fabulous! I had mentioned to my book club that I had recently read and adored this and next thing I know, I am elected to host the next meeting and this will be the book! Not sure at all how it will be received – NO ONE had heard of it, this is not a “bookish” group. I don’t know why I am so nervous. (Will be end of August meeting. But the best thing is, I now have a great excuse to reread it.

    1. That’s great! This is a fabulous choice for a group meeting because there are just SO MANY things to discuss and talk about in the book. I think the debate of whether Ricardo did the right thing itself would take hours without reaching any conclusion. And how nice that you are hosting the meeting. Since you have enjoyed the book I am sure you are a wonderful choice to talk about this book by Llosa.

      You must let me know how the discussion goes, though August is far far away. Don’t forget. 🙂

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