Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Comfy-Chair Reading: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

In attempting to review this novel, certain words come to mind like "delightful" and "charming"--words that are not active participants in my vocabulary. But that is exactly what I Capture the Castle is. Listen to the first line:

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

That's an instant hook for me! From the back cover (my own attempts to summarize would pale in comparison to the gifted unknowns who write for book covers):

"I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-0ld 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 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 literatures most enchanting entertainments."

You could call the book a romance, only Cassandra is not particularly romantic. She is very matter-of-fact about her relationships with the different men in the story, and she says at one point "I know all about the facts of life. And I don't think much of them." She does, however, go through a ritual in the midst of the story that symbolizes her transition into adulthood, when romantic love becomes a bit more of a priority. Don't think that I am critical of her, just jealous--I have not been so indifferent to romantic love since pre-kindergarten.

I loved Stephen, and hoped she would fall for him, because I sure did. I felt it was pretty open-ended through most of the novel who she would end up with, and I liked that. Neil, Simon, Stephen, a solitary life in the castle--they were all possible options. I appreciated her attempts at characterization, and her admission that she doesn't really know the people in her life well enough. There was a motif of nudity throughout, perhaps symbolizing vulnerability or in contrast to her lack of ability to "uncover" the innermost parts of people's characters. I'm sure a deeper reading would "reveal" more, no pun intended. (But don't get the wrong idea, this is a pretty innocent book.)

Some favorite lines:
"I was only expecting bread and margarine for tea, and I don't get as used to margarine as I could wish. I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread." (I appreciate this as a butter-lover.)

Preparations to have the rich family over to the humble castle for dinner, and realizing they don't have the appropriate furnishings: "In the end, Topaz got Stephen to take the hen-house door off its hinges and make some rough trestles to put it on, and we pushed it close to the window seat, which saved us three chairs. We used the grey brocade curtains from the hall as a tablecloth . . ." (I appreciate this passage because I was asked to host the dinner portion of a church progressive dinner, and freaked out because I am also unequipped for such events. But I do have a table and chairs, so it could be worse.)

On daydreams: "There have been so many that they have gradually merged into each other. I don't think I could bring myself to describe any of them in detail because, though they are wonderful at the time, they give me a flat, sick, ashamed feeling to look back on. And they are like a drug, one needs them oftener and oftener and has to make them more and more exciting--until at last one's imagination won't work at all." She also comments somewhere I could not find that daydreams are frustrating, because once you have dreamed them, you can be most assured things won't really happen that way.

Has anyone read this? Did you like it? Has anyone seen the movie? Is it any good?


  1. I love your new Blog!

  2. Haven't read it, but would love to, Bookworm. Or is that Ismael? JK! Moby Dick is horrific. I never made it through, either. Perhaps, as with other books and movies, there will come a time in my life when I will read it again and relish it. Is that possible?

  3. Okay, you forgot the best part of I Capture the Castle... the last page. "A mist is rolling over the fields. Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad? There was mist on Midsummer Eve, mist when we drove into the dawn. He said he would come back. Only the margin left to write on now. I love you. I love you, I love you." Whenever I need a good cry I just pull out that last page and unleash the waterworks. Isn't it silly to let such a simple book get to me?

    And for all you Moby Dick haters, nobody was a more fervent Moby Dick hater than I, but I had to read it for my last class for my MA and I LOVED it! I think you have to just dedicate three or four days to reading that and doing nothing else. After a while, it just sucks you in, and you feel compelled to keep on reading it. At least that's what happened to me.

    Okay. Carry on....

  4. My sister, Framed, read this last month and loved it. I'm going to borrow the book and HOPE to get it read sometime soon. I definitely want to watch it before seeing the movie.

  5. I read this book long ago. I had forgotten until I saw the title. Like the new blog.

  6. i'm not familiar with either the book or the movie ... i'm adding the book to my to-read list!

  7. I just found your blog via a comment you left at Books and Cooks. It is lovely.

    I love both the book and the movie! And I'm a butter fan, too. :<)

    And I wouldn't bother picking up again any of the books on your sidebar that you quit. :<) There are too, too many wonderful books in the world to waste time struggling with ones we feel we 'ought' to read.

    I'll be back to visit again.

  8. I loved this book and the film is on my 'must watch this - why haven't I?' list.

  9. I have this book on my list to-be-read. I found the title in "The Book Club Companion" and it sounded like one I would enjoy. Now that I've read your review, I know I will love it. Thanks.

  10. Now I find we have something else in common. I, too, am a butter fan. Great review of a great book. I haven't seen the movie (a bit afraid it will ruin the book for me).

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