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Essence of teenage angst, served up with wit and enchantment
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
Member Name: grheliz
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
Advantages: Charming, funny
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.
Summary: Transport yourself away to the world of the Mortmain family