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Retro Friday: I Capture the Caste by Dodie Smith

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is a favorite of so many readers. It’s been on my radar ever since I read The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice a few years ago and heard that the two books are very similar. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to pick up I Capture the Castle but you know what it’s like, you have to be in certain mood to read some books. I finally felt like reading this a few days ago and I’m glad I did.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle” – and the heart of the reader – in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.

I write this sitting in the office chair in front of the computer at home. Ha, thought I’d just try that out since I Capture the Castle starts with “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” Dodie Smith’s writing reminded me a bit of Eva Ibbotson’s young adult titles in the sense that it has a fairy tale feel even if it’s a historical fiction novel. And since I love Eva Ibbotson’s books, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed reading this one. What can be more whimsical than living in an old castle? Of course, it’s not as dreamy as one would expect when the Mortmain family can’t even afford to buy necessities. It presents a good contrast: living in a beautiful and majestic place but trying to make ends meet. I liked how Cassandra didn’t let that bother her – she loves living in the castle and she’s more tolerant of their reduced circumstances than her sister older sister Rose. Cassandra is a reader and a dreamer and she’s able to appreciate the beauty around her in spite of her family’s problems. Sure, she worries but she’s never bitter about their situation. I wanted to highlight so many of the passages that she wrote but I’m choosing to quote this one because I can relate to it:

“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.”

Cassandra is obviously a girl I can be friends with. The rest of the characters are also quirky and they come alive through Cassandra’s descriptions. I love that she starts a journal because she wants to improve her writing. Also, writing by candlelight or moonlight adds to the atmospheric feel of the novel. In the months while she’s writing, Cassandra really grows as a character. I like how she falls in love and learns to evaluate herself by examining her own feelings. I wasn’t into the romance as much as I’d like but I appreciate how it contributed to Cassandra’s character development. After all, I think that’s what the novel is all about – the life of a young woman set in 1930s England. I have a used copy of the edition that has the movie cover and I must say that I’m not a fan of its design. I’m itching to watch the movie though and see if it’s just as good as the book. Maybe I can post about it here on the blog as well. I Capture the Castle is a delightful read, I feel like this is the kind of book that you can read even if you’re about to experience a reading slump. Highly recommended for historical fiction readers and fans of Eva Ibbotson’s YA novels (note that those titles were originally published for adults and only repackaged as YA a few years ago). I wouldn’t mind reading more books similar to this one.

Other reviews:
Book Snob
Thoughts On My Bookshelf
The Reading and Life of a Bookworm
She Reads Novels

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