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I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

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Author: Dodie Smith / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 02 August 2012 / Genre: Children's Classic Fiction / Publisher: Vintage / Title: I Capture the Castle / ISBN 13: 9780099572886 / ISBN 10: 0099572886

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      13.10.2011 20:39
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      Transport yourself away to the world of the Mortmain family

      Most people associate Dodie Smith with those charming dalmations. In fact, she was a playwright as well, and also wrote I Capture the Castle, one of the funniest young adult novels of the twentieth century, and possibly the first of the modern genre that reproduces the full torment and excitement of being not quite an adult but not quite a child, either.
      ,
      Cassandra Mortmain and her brother, sister and former servant's child live in a dilapidated ruined castle. Their stepmother is an artist and 'muse', and their father is the author of a one-hit wonder novel.

      He hasn't written a word in years. They are achingly poor. It is the thirties. There are no benefits. The girls, Rose, who's nearly 21, and Cassandra, 17, are seemingly totally unsuited for any form of paid employment. Their main asset as a family is Rose's lovely face and pretty hair.

      When two rich American brothers inherit a local manor house, the Mortmain girls become Jane Austen's Bennet sisters, transported into the twentieth century. Rose must marry the heir! All their troubles will be solved by an injection of American cash. Younger sister Cassandra is the more thoughtful of the two and the more intelligent: Elizabeth to Rose's Jane Bennet, except that Rose doesn't share Jane's scruples.

      Rose is sure she can love the wealthy and doting Simon, of course she is, because it would be terribly wicked to marry for money.

      Or would it? Food is short in the Mortmain household. Even furniture is a little short as much of it has been sold. Cassandra is shocked to think that her sister might not really love Simon, whom she charms into proposing. But can she really protest too much? It is quite nice to benefit from American largesse (Cassandra enjoys the presents, new clothes and rich food as much as anyone). And Simon is very good with their father, recognising him as a creative genius and doing all he can to coax a second novel out of him.

      But everyone seems to be suffering from a misfiring of Cupid's arrows. Cassandra has a suitor she doesn't love: Stephen, the son of a former servant, and the only person in the Mortmain household capable of earning money. Cassandra actually has a bit of *thing* for Simon, but of course he's in love with Rose. But who's Rose in love with? Even the adults seem to be getting into a pickle with romance.

      Meanwhile if Cassandra's father doesn't actually manage to get a second novel written he will probably drive himself insane. He has taken to collecting all kinds of weird and wonderful objects, including fish bones from yesterday's supper, and broken plates. Desperate measures are needed to force the book from him. Cassandra favours regression to investigate past trauma, but they could really do with a psycho-analyst to do it properly and there aren't many of those at large in Suffolk in the thirties. On the other hand, the family do own a rather useful dungeon. Could they, should they . . .? but it would be telling too much to go any further in this direction.


      Growing up, falling in love, seeing your parents as flawed and confused human beings, getting in a muddle, it's all in this novel. Think of Pride and Prejudice twinned with Adrian Mole and you'll get a sense of the kind of read on offer from this book, but it won't come near giving you a full sense of its charm. It works brilliantly as a novel for teenagers, but anyone who loves well-written prose would enjoy it. The book also benefits from some beautiful black and white illustrations, which give a sense of the lost England captured in the book. Dodie Smith wrote it in exile in America and you can almost feel the homesickness oozing off the pages.

      This is a book that will take your mind off your own life. The world of the Mortmains is in turn bizarre, worrying and endearing. I felt homesick for them almost as soon as I'd finished reading.

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        25.05.2010 22:29
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        Wonderful story that makes you want to get out and live and be happy!

        If Cassandra were a nice name, I would name my first daughter after her, for she is the protagonist and narrator of one of my favourite books in the world. Sometimes I wish I were her, other times I long for her to be my best friend, but I always wish she were part of my life. And I suppose she is in some ways. Don't worry; I am not barking mad. But I sometimes find myself using phrases that sound like the type of thing Cassandra would say, or telling anecdotes in a similar style to her. When you read this book, I hope you will understand.

        We are privy to reading Cassandra's journal, in which she documents all the goings on of her apparently boring (if living in the crumbling ruins of an old English castle with a fairly crazy father and a bohemian stepmother can be called boring) but then increasingly interesting life. It is the 1930s and life is plodding on, towards imminent poverty, for Cassandra and her beautiful sister Rose, until one night two American brothers arrive to make their home in a nearby manor. The narrative then follows the ups and downs of the next few months (love - both requited and unrequited, adventure, friendship, guilt, sisterhood... traditionally referred to as "coming of age" I believe), with a good ol' twist to finish with.

        Dodie Smith has created the most amazing heroine-narrator, a girl whose naivety makes her charming and incredibly readable. The whole book is believable because you believe Cassandra; the whole book is entertaining because Cassandra is entertaining; the whole book is sad and thought provoking because Cassandra is sad and thought provoking. She is amazingly insightful and can retell stories with wonderful sensitivity to different characters' experiences of the same event. You become a fly on the wall because Cassandra is the world's best fly on the wall.

        In my opinion this book would be a good read for lots of different types of people, because there are so many characters to relate to. Cassandra's father is a writer struggling to start penning his second novel after a short imprisonment for brandishing a knife at his now dead wife; he is such an interesting and complex character that it is easy to read between the lines and add your own aspects to his personality. You can have fun explaining to yourself his strange ways, and trying to decide whether he is mad or whether he is brilliant (the same predicament that Cassandra has). His new wife, 'Topaz,' is as bright and beautiful as her name implies. She is an artists' model which would point most readers to label her as a bit ditzy. However, she is quite the opposite. Topaz upholds the children and family life throughout her husband's writers' block with tenacity and good humour. She shows unflinching love for her husband and does everything she can to support her family during their struggle from poverty. She is a superb character. As 'supporting cast' these two are Oscar worthy. With so many bright stars attached to this novel, have I done enough to convince you to read it yet?!

        I hate reaching the end of this book; not because it's not good, because it is. It's because it's so realistic, and also you feel like you don't want to let go of the Mortmain family just yet. Even so, there is a certain amount of scope for the reader to add their own ending, which is nice because you feel like Cassandra is moving on from the events of the story, leaving others to take over as she begins focussing on new areas of her life. You begin to feel like you are both ready to part company and that Cassandra has arrived at a point where she can manage better and start to look forward.

        I know I keep banging on about Cassandra, but it was she who first inspired me to write. She made it look so easy. She sat in the kitchen sink and simply wrote. So I thought I'd try it too. I started writing about things I was doing, or thoughts that were buzzing around my head. Admittedly I didn't sit in the kitchen sink, nor did I spend my evenings swimming in the moat surrounding my castle, or lying naked on the top of a hill 'communing with nature,' but nevertheless it was fun. She is and always will be brilliant, as is this book.

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          14.09.2009 21:08
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          A really memorable novel.

          Dodie Smith's first novel tells the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl, in the form of her personal diary. She wrote it in 1948 after authoring a number of plays.

          The diary of Cassandra Mortmain tracks the musings of a young woman and her family's impoverished life in a crumbling castle, leased by her father who has lost creative inspiration after his initial literary success some years earlier. They live with her other-worldly step-mother Topaz and her beautiful and frustrated sister, Rose. The plot involves some ups and downs revolving around the rich new American family who inherit the estate and become the objects of interest to the socially isolated sisters.

          The characters are vividly drawn. Cassandra's narration is naive and youthful but insightfully and subtly profound at times and it is a credit to the writer that her words feel authentic, rather than manipulated. This is a believable young person, despite the time that has passed since it's publication.

          Maybe the most skilful aspect of Smith's writing is in the description of the English countryside, and of the Castle itself. After reading this I discovered she wrote it while living in the United States and couldn't believe it - I thought she surely must have been wandering around the very place she describes so well, but it seems her homesickness assisted her in this respect. 'Captured', indeed. As well as being almost able to smell, taste and touch the surroundings, Dodie Smith's ability with visual description, combined with Cassandra's adolescent wit, makes for some hilarious mental imagery that has me giggling even now, in the same way that funny, real events from my own memories can do. I can't think of a single other book that has done that. Ok, maybe Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

          The events in the book are pretty small-scale, personal to the individual, and revolve around the navigation of romantic relationships and unrequited love. The weightier subject of poverty is a central theme; the family are barely surviving. Creative inspiration and the role of women are also up for discussion.

          My sister bought this book for me, and she said she had heard it recommended on a 'Women's Literature' type radio programme, but I reckon that's not doing it credit to assume men wouldn't appreciate it, even if it might not appeal at first glance. A wide range of ages should also be able to enjoy 'I Capture the Castle' too, thanks to the quality of the writing.

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            01.12.2008 05:14
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            Cassandra is not self-centered

            I am a teenager and am of the audience that this book was intended for. Or was It? "I Capture the Castle" is a wonderful book about,,, well everything! You go right along with the narrator, and main character extraordinaire, Cassandra Mortmain, as she learns to speed write, kiss and be brisk.

            Her family lives in an old, run-down castle in 1930's England. Known as Godsend Castle to the townsfolk, Cassandra and her family moved there when she was a small girl and her mother was still alive. Shortly after her mother's death her father, known as Mortmain, stops writing and becomes a recluse. The money from his first book "Jacob Wrestling" is gone and the family is forced to sell furniture. But before life goes completely down the tubes Mortmain marries Topaz, a wonderfully eccentric model and artist with a taste for nudity. Life goes on getting slowly worse until the day we begin the story in the kitchen sink. Yes, the kitchen sink. You see the book is written in diary form and Cassandra can find such good light from the window above the sink that that is where we first meet her.

            Cassandra and her older sister, Rose share a room upstairs with ms. blossom (whom you will have to read the book to find out more about). Rose, though not entirely self-centered, cannot stand their way of life and is determined to find a wealthy and suitable husband to whisk her away from poverty. Now enter the Cotton brothers. Simon and Neil Cotton are the American relatives of an old man who owns both Godsend Castle and Scoatney Hall. When the man dies and the brothers come to claim the Scoatney estate they trek to Godsend (also their property) to find our heroine in a bathtub up to her arms in green dye. Rose and Simon fall instantly into "love" and began planning wedding details. However, only after her first dinner party and some very influencing cherry brandy does Cassandra realize that she is deeply in love with Simon.

            Now comes the final, fantastic drama that I can't tell you about! Don't cha love it! You should, I did. This book, though slow-paced at first is an amazing tale about family rows, and first loves. Breaking it off with one, while hooking it up with another. You follow Cassandra, her father Topaz, Rose, her brother Thomas and her dear (maybe more than) friend Stephan through all the changes that come in her life, all because of the kitchen sink.

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            07.07.2008 21:58
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            A tale of first loves

            This novel follows the life of Cassandra Mortmain, a 17 year old girl from a rather eccentric family living in a castle. The head of the house, Cassandra's father, is a brilliant yet stifled author. Having written a hugely successful novel some years ago but he's written nothing since. Rose, the elder and very beautiful, sister is tired of poverty and wants to marry a rich man at all costs. Topaz the bohemian stepmother, Thomas the younger brother and poor Stephen, hoplessly in love with Cassandra, comprise the family unit.

            When one day two young, wealthy American brothers enter the scene the lives of the entire family begin to change.

            This novel is a delight to read, written in the form of diary enteries by the protagonist, Cassandra. It's completely engrossing from beginning to end with twists and turns to keep you guessing, and hoping, throughout. Don't be fooled into thinking this is only for teenagers, it's a wonderfully insightful story told by a truely charming character.

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            28.12.2007 14:23
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            coming-of-age novel

            Oh, what a wonderful book!
            Written by the author of 101 Dalmations, it came as a surprise to me that it was a perfect teen coming-of-age novel. What a gem!

            It was written in 1949, and set slightly earlier.The Mortmain family ( Dad - previously successful author, now suffering from writer's block, his second wife Topaz - ex artists model, oldest daughter Rose - with great expectations, middle daughter Cassandra - heroine, and son Thomas - a schoolboy) all live in a crumbling Suffolk castle. Dad and Mum fell in love with it and bought it to house their three tiny children. Mum died, Dad fell into a decline and stopped earning, then took a second wife who helps them scrape a living. This is when the novel starts.
            It is in effect the diary of Cassandra, who starts with the story of their poverty-striken life.As children, they don't really mind, and just get on with it.

            As the novel progresses, rich Americans come to live next door, and puberty comes knocking. Love (or is it?) blossoms between various members of the cast, and it all weaves beautifully towards a shock ending. Fabulously weepie.
            The writing is wonderful. Cassandra is cast as a budding writer, which explains her fluidity of style and adeptness at description. She talks about the family's ambivalent feelings towards the newcomers, Rose's desperate chasing after marriage to help them out of poverty, her father's struggle with writing, and her own first moves towards adult relationships.

            Despite the fact that Dodie was long past her teenage years when she wrote it, it is fabulously accurate. The first time you feel an attraction to someone, your first kiss, feeling attracted to someone you know you shouldn't be and how you tell them, that dreadful embarassment about your family while still feeling fiercely protective. All these things are vividly recounted.
            Cassandra also has a wit about her that is very attractive, and makes her a very likeable heroine. I wish I could tell you the end, but it would spoil it - you'll have to read it.

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            15.09.2007 15:47
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            One of a rare number books that will take you into it's heart.

            Dodie Smith is probably most well known for writing 101 Dalmatians, however she infact wrote many plays as well as this novel which was first published in 1949.
            I Capture the Castle draws in many aspects of classics English novels including Jane Eyre, and while the diary form it’s written in certainly isn’t original it still remains a firm favourite of many including myself.


            Normally I wouldn't have even considered picking up a copy of this book, as on the whole I mainly stick to the crime/thriller genre for reading matter. However I vaguely recalled watching the film a few years ago and loved it, so I was pretty certain that I'd equally enjoy the book.


            I Capture the Castle follows the highs and lows of the Mortmain family living in a run down castle in the 1930’s. Seventeen year old Cassandra is the narrator of the novel who wanting to write herself, decides to keep a diary so she can practice her writing skills as well as trying to capture her thoughts and feelings about her life.
            Cassandra certainly isn’t stuck for things to write about as her family is anything but normal. Mr Mortmain is on the whole estranged from his family and suffers with writers block. Topaz is his second wife and was once a model, now she spends her days looking after the place and stripping off to be at one with nature.
            Rose is Cassandra’s older sister and all she wants is a rich man to marry. Thomas is the youngest but is on the whole mature for his age, and Stephen is a live- in friend of the family and has a huge crush on Cassandra.

            Having sold off most of their furniture to pay for food, the future prospects of the family look very bleak.
            Hope however is risen upon the arrival of the Cotton’s who have inherited Scoatney Hall, and are now their new landlords. Brothers Neil and Simon along with their mother are a very wealthy family, and money is exactly want the Mortmains could do with.


            What struck me first about the novel was the way in which Smith is able in a sense to ‘capture’ England in all its glory, but without brushing over the equally less appealing aspects of the country. This is down to the fact that back in the 40’s she was forced to move to America along with her husband. Clearly homesick for her homeland, Smith penned this novel which even to this day is still popular due to fact that it’s so blatantly honest and real.

            While the book is narrated by a seventeen year old teenager, you would be wrong in thinking that this book would only appeal to that group. I myself am in my mid twenties and I got so much out of the book, that I shall definitely be reading again which not something I often find myself doing.

            On the offset it’s about a teenage girl maturing into a woman, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The book raises many questions about social class and peoples pre conceptions of foreigners. As well as that it covers how women were perceived back then, and how more were breaking out of their stereotypical mould. If I have made this novel sound a heavy read then for give me as I can assure you it’s not, but it’s just one of those novels that will keep you thinking and questioning things long after you’ve finished it.

            The diary format of the book appealed to me when I was about the same age as Cassandra, I too used to keep diaries and would struggle to capture my feelings about certain events and would end up writing as much as I could just like she did in order to try and make sense of things.

            While the book is barely over the 400 page mark, by the end of reading it I felt as if I’d been on a rollercoaster of a journey as it manages to invoke so many emotions. On the one hand I found myself sympathizing with the family’s bleak situation, but then quickly turned into admiration due to the fact that they pulled together to make the most of what they did have. So vivid is the castle, its surroundings and the characters themselves, I felt as if I was a fly on the wall looking in on the Mortmains.

            While all of the characters were fully developed and well rounded, there were a couple of occasions when I felt that some of them did things that I felt were out of character. For example the fur coat instance springs to mine where Cassandra has already said that they repulse her, but then goes into a shop with her sister and talks about enjoying it. Luckily this only happened every once in a while, so I’m pleased to say it didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the book.


            It’s fair to say that all of the characters had their annoying habits and peculiar ways, but I never stopped caring about any of them and was eager to find out their fates. I cannot rate this book any more highly and would recommend you at least give this captivating book a try.


            My paperback copy was released in 2003 and is available at amazon used and new from 1p.

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              10.08.2006 21:04
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              A pleasant read for when you have a bit of time on your hands

              Flicking through the bookshelves of a high street bookstore a couple of years ago I came across “I Capture The Castle” by Dodie Smith. Although dubbed a “children’s book” something about the novel drew me to it and I decided that I would like to find out more. I received this book the following Christmas and commenced on an often moving, at times frustrating and frequently intriguing journey along with Cassandra, the protagonist of this charming novel.

              THE PLOT-
              “I Capture The Castle” draws you in from the start, what other novel begins citing the writer’s location as the kitchen sink? The novel tells the story of Cassandra Mortmain, a seventeen year old girl, who lives in a castle with her beautiful older sister, Rose; little brother, Thomas; retired novelist father; stepmother, Topaz; and Stephen, the son of their former maid, who remained with the family following his mother’s death. Cassandra’s eccentric father, now virtually a recluse, moved to the castle years before with his daughters and his wife, who later died. He had previously written a best seller, the profits of which they were still attempting to live off after he abandoned writing following its publication, with no explanation as to why. The sales of his only novel, however, have dwindled over the years, leaving the family now almost destitute. The only other source of income they have had in past years was from Topaz, who, being strikingly beautiful, was a famous artists’ model but who is now as good as retired herself. Due to their dire financial situation, the family, freed from paying rent years ago, remain living in the castle thanks to the landlord’s kindness.

              Although the Mortmain family struggle through their destitution, Rose, at least, has other plans. Beautiful Rose dreams of marrying someone rich who will take her away from her life of boredom and poverty, to begin her transition into the social butterfly that she longs to be.

              Cassandra, although idly supportive of her sister’s ambitions, is more content with their situation which she feels to be romantic. She does, however, have her own aspirations and is intent on following in her father’s footsteps by writing a novel. She has no intention, unlike her sister, of finding someone to marry. That is, until the new heirs to the castle, Simon and Neil, arrive to view their property.

              This is where, after a slow start, the story really seems to begin, as Rose sets about making Simon fall in love with her. The rather shallow Simon is naturally ensnared by Rose’s beauty and she is besotted with is wealth and status. To add to the complication, however, Cassandra, who has connected with Simon on a more intellectual level, realises that she is in love with him, a sentiment that Rose clearly doesn’t share. The story follows Cassandra as she struggles with her feelings; Rose, who, oblivious to Cassandra’s discovery, is determined to cling on to her new-found taste of wealth; and the struggle of Cassandra’s own admirer, Stephen.

              WHAT I LIKED-
              This is an interesting and cute story about growing up and falling in love. The author uses an effective technique of writing the novel in diary form. I liked this style as it gave added insight into the thoughts and actions of the leading character and made the characters seem more real, almost giving me a sense of knowing and understanding Cassandra. It is realistically written as, like any diary, it records the insignificant personal details of Cassandra’s life alongside significant events, which gave it a genuine and realistic feel.

              WHAT I DISLIKED-
              Although the style of writing does has its advantages, the downside of this format is that the novel occasionally gets a bit dull as, like with any diary, Cassandra does record insignificant events and there often was not much of interest to record. Another disadvantage was that I also began to find the main character, Cassandra, quite annoying as she came across as completely self-centred, a side-effect, I suppose, of it being written in the style of a diary, a place where many of us probably do sound self-centred. I also felt that the ending was rather unsatisfactory as questions are left unanswered and situations unresolved.

              RECOMENDED FOR... Anyone who has experienced the agonies of unrequited love or growing up (that’s most of us then?) It is a gentle, slow-paced story so is probably not ideal for anyone who is used to, and enjoys, reading thrillers full of action and twists.

              READ WHEN... You’re in a quiet, reflective mood or are feeling isolated in your misery and longing for love.

              READ IF YOU LIKED... “Little Women”, another classic which tells the tale of growing up, falling in love and heartbreaking sibling rivalry.

              IF IT WERE FOOD IT WOULD BE... Warm milk. Cosy and comforting with memories of childhood, yet occasionally you may find it ever so slightly bland.

              IF IT WERE A COLOUR IT WOULD BE... White - gentle and pure.

              IF IT WERE A SEASON IT WOULD BE... Spring, a time of growth and change.

              MARKS OUT OF 10 FOR:
              WRITING STYLE- 10
              PLOT- 7
              CHARACTERS- 4. One of the downfalls of this novel is the unlikeable character traits of many of the central characters, such as Cassandra’s self-centredness, self-pity and tendency to wallow; the mercenary and selfish tendencies of Rose; and Simon’s shallowness regarding Rose and her beauty - his sole reason, it would seem, for falling in love with her.
              UNPREDICTABILITY- 7
              UN-PUT-DOWN-ABILITY- 5
              OVERALL NOVEL- 7

              RECOMMENDED- Yes. It is loved by many and a nice enough story but don’t go in to it with too high expectations like I did or you might feel a bit disappointed.

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                03.02.2003 03:59
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                The term "children's fiction" is misleading. A good book is one which is still a good book, no matter how old you are when you read it. The very best books written for children or adolescents are often the ones that are also successful with an adult audience.

                So it was with Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. I opened the book entirely by accident, sighing over the lack of good books in the house that I was staying at. "Dodie Smith wrote 101 Dalmations," my best friend said helpfully. I grimaced. A book by a children's author who inspired a Disney film?

                But I opened the first page... and was convinced that I Capture the Castle was well worth reading. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink," the novel begins. I didn't look back, but sped through the pages, increasingly delighted.

                I Capture the Castle is the fictional diary of seventeen year-old Cassandra Mortmain. She lives in a falling-down castle in the 1930s, and at the beginning of the novel she is waiting for something - anything - to happen. Her loveably eccentric family consists of her stunningly beautiful sister Rose, their hopelessly insolvent writer's-block-stricken father, their endearingly odd (nudist!) stepmother Topaz, and their beloved cat (Abelard) and dog (Heloise). Of course, the novel is about what does happen after Cassandra wishes for something to happen.

                The beginning of "something happening" involves two Americans, our narrator having accidentally dyed her arms green, and a shower curtain. I won't say any more about it, in the hopes that you will be intrigued enough to read for yourself what happens next.

                J.K Rowling called Cassandra "the most charismatic narrator" that she had come across - the quote features prominently on the front of the book, which has just been re-issued. Dodie Smith has created an impossibly loveable, gawky but beautiful teenager, who is impossible to forget once you have read the book. I just wish that the book had a sequel, because I miss knowing what happens next.

                It is a magical and impossibly fantastic but oddly believable book. It is funny, heart-wrenching, and romantic in turn. Although the setting (1930s England) is now somewhat dated, it is very easy to relate to. It is just familiar enough to recognise the very human emotions, but also just alien enough to force your imagination to work vividly. It is unlike anything that I have ever read, but it compares well with classic coming-of-age novels like Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Little Women, or any of the magical Emily of New Moon books. I think that it would have appealed to me as a young adolescent, but the remarkable thing is that it still appeals to me now. I love it, I would read it again and again, and I would buy it for anyone from eight to infinity years old.

                I have been so pleasantly surprised by this book. I advise it to anyone who wants to be pleasantly surprised. It is refreshingly unpretentious but at the same time very well-written. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


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                  12.09.2001 21:27
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                  Firstly, this book is nothing like the famous '101 Dalmations'. It is not about dogs, for a start. The story focusses on the Mortmain family, which is composed of the father (referred to as 'Mortmain'), his wife, Topaz (an eccentric model who likes to walk around naked), and his children from an earlier marriage: Rose (beautiful and ambitious), Cassandra (the rather ordinary heroine) and Thomas (eternally hungry schoolboy). As a result of the stunning success of Mortmain's debut novel, 'Jacob wrestling', the family live in a rented castle. Unfortunately, as this novel was written 13 years ago and Mortmain hasn't written anything since, the money they once had is running out rapidly, leading to imaginative ways of economy. Perhaps the most enterprising of these is Rose's plan to marry the eldest of two rich American brothers, who own the castle. Throughout all this Cassandra narrates events, experiences and feelings in her diary. Over the course of a year and a half she records how the fortunes of the family proceed, how she tastes champagne, how she falls in love, how she rebuffs the love of another, how she learns about her sister's love of money and how her father begins to write again. Every part of the story rings true. The characters are carefully drawn and very realistic, particularly that of Cassandra. She even lies in her diary - haven't we all done that? This book shouldn't strictly be placed in the children's section, because it is written in an adult manner and touches upon adult issues. In my local library it is placed in the adult fiction section. So don't let the fact that it is often classed as teenage fiction put you off!

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                    16.08.2000 01:38
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                    “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” So begins Dodie Smith’s charming, timeless novel of adolescent angst and family loyalties. It is hard not to fall immediately in love with a book that begins in such a way, and I defy you not to adore this book, no matter what age you are. You see, until recently, this classic tale of 17 year old Cassandra Mortmain and her struggle to ‘capture’ the essence of her eccentric, bohemian family and the crumbling castle they call home, has often been relegated to ‘teen fiction’ sections in bookshops. The introduction to the Virago Modern Classics edition, by Valerie Grove (who also wrote a biography of the author called ‘Dear Dodie’), explains her aim to widen the audience of the novel, as it was never originally intended just for children. She also lists the huge number of famous writers who have been influenced by reading the novel, and says that once most people read it, they cannot help but recommend it to others and pass it along as a kind of literary family heirloom. I had read so many reviews raving about this book that I felt I had to try it for myself. I did not put it down all night and read until the early hours so I could finish it. It is exquisitely written (in the form of Cassandra’s journal) and so convincingly recreates the emotional experience of being a teenage girl. The trials and tribulations of the family and their many misadventures will keep you hooked until the very end…and you will not want it to end! It is a book worthy to be mentioned in the same light as the best of Jane Austen’s work, or any of the Bronte sisters’ – it has the same kind of charm, amusing details and emotional truth. Cassandra, and the other characters, are memorable and lovable, you really feel you have come to know them through reading this. It is wryly amusing and also, at times, heartbreaking. Dodie Smith is perh
                    aps best known as the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, but she really deserves to be remembered for I Capture The Castle – many people consider it a masterpiece, and I cannot disagree. She wrote the novel in a fit of homesickness for England, having moved to Hollywood with her husband during the war; and along with ‘capturing’ 1930’s England, she has captured many reader’s hearts. Buy a copy and allow yourself to be captured, too. You will thank me! :-)

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