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

17 thoughts on “Retro Friday: I Capture the Caste by Dodie Smith

    • Charlotte, I kind of agree – the ending could have been better. I think that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t fall in love with the romance.

  1. I have only become aware of this book since I started book blogging – a few people I trust for recommendations mentioned it as a classic. I think it’ll go into the ever-mounting TBR/wishlist, and one of these days (God willing) I’ll actually read it. Thanks for sharing!

    • I also found out about this book through fellow book bloggers – isn’t it amazing that you get to discover so many good books through the blogosphere? πŸ˜› Hope you get to read this one soon! I’ve had my copy for a while, got it from a used bookstore that’s now closed.

  2. I liked the movie and thought it was about as good of an adaptation as I’ve seen, though of course it pales in comparison to a book as magical as I Capture the Castle.

    • Well, books are usually better than their movie adaptations but as long as I have fun watching the movie then I don’t mind. I’ll try to do that soon so I can talk about it here on the blog.

  3. a favorite of mine! there is so much to love in Cassandra’s diary: it’s freshness, his simplicity, his absolute englishness.
    And here it’s a quote from the book that I copied in my diary “Contemplation seems to be the only luxury that costs nothing”. Brilliant.

    • Ari, so nice of you to drop by! I agree – Cassandra’s voice is very English and that’s something that I enjoyed reading about. It was funny how she noticed the differences between using American and English words.

      Love that quote as well. πŸ™‚

  4. The cover you are referring to is the one above? If it is, I’m not a fan of it either. I usually don’t dig movie cover editions in general. Like the Stardust in NBS here, they only have it’s movie cover ed. and as much as I want to get the book, I don’t because of the cover. πŸ™‚

    Love the quote from the book you posted. This looks like something I might like. Although, I haven’t read An Eva Ibbotson yet. I gifted Countess Below Stairs before, to a friend. I wonder if it’s okay to borrow gifted books? Seems nakakahiya. Hee. πŸ˜€

    • Yep, I usually post the same covers that are in the editions that I read whenever I put up a review. Hey if you’re interested in Stardust then I recommend that you get the graphic novel edition. Charles Vess’ illustrations are amazing. I have a copy of that (had it signed when Neil Gaiman had a signing in Manila) and a paperback that got passed around.

      Hope you get to read Eva Ibbotson soon! Love her books. Like I mentioned in a previous Shoot That Book post, my favorites are Countess Below Stairs and The Reluctant Heiress.

      • Oh, there’s a graphic novel edition? I’d definitely rather get that as opposed to the mass market paperback. Thanks for the tip. πŸ™‚

        I am going to ask my friend tom lend me Countess Below Stairs. It really does seem like a lovely historical YA read. πŸ™‚

  5. Oh, I love I Capture The Castle, and funnily enough the other day I was JUST thinking ‘I wish more of my book blogger friends would review this’ so now I think you are kind of a mind reader.

    I did not like the ultimate outcome of the romance either.

    • Good thing I reviewed it then! πŸ˜› I’m glad that it looks like we felt the same way about this book – it’s a lovely piece of historical fiction but I wish I was more invested in the romance.

  6. This book had me for the first two-thirds. The last third made me so angry, I can’t think of it without immediately getting uptight.

    I do remember the family and the writing fondly, though.

    • Sorry to hear the last third of the book didn’t work for you, Angie! I was wondering if you’ve read this. I think the end could have been better too. I enjoyed reading it but it isn’t included in my list of favorites.

Comments are like chocolate. :) Maraming salamat / thank you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.