Thursday, May 22, 2014

Books before I'm 30: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I went into this book fairly ignorant of its contents. I was aware that it was a well loved novel, particularly by my mother, but other than that, nothing. I didn't even particularly notice the author, Dodie Smith, wrote 101 Dalmations, nor that the book was written in the 1940s and set in the 1930s.

It gives us the diary entries of Cassandra, a somewhat impoverished 17 year old girl, who lives in a castle (well, a house in a castle) with her family: her father, who appears to be trapped in depression, her step mother, a nature loving model prone to speaking nonsense, her slightly foolish older sister Rose, their younger brother Thomas (who is sort of sir not appearing in this novel for most of it) and their semi-adopted brother Stephen.

Their prospects seem somewhat bleak, until the new owners of the land, two American brothers, come to stay. From there, the plot thickens.

I did enjoy the book, although I don't know that I loved it. I liked all the characters, particularly Cassandra. Dodie Smith captures her very well, and you get to enjoy the little turns of phrase she uses. It reminded me of Austen to some extent, and indeed Cassandra references both Austen and the Brontes several times. Some of the cleverness of the book comes from that it is a diary, and thus we only ever see things from Cassandra's perspective. Dodie Smith rarely cheats in this regard, so in some respect Cassandra functions a little bit like an unreliable narrator, in that the assumptions she makes about others motivations is often wrong in hindsight.

There are some lovely moments when Cassandra is feeling unhappy, but is under the impression that she has concealed such emotions from other characters, who then demonstrate through their words and actions that they perceive her true emotional state, even if they don't let on directly. I suspect the book would very much reward re-reading, especially given some of the final act revelations.

I can absolutely see why some would fall in love with the book, but I didn't feel myself fully engaged at all points. I feel like the narrative slows at some points, and I felt myself lose interest occasionally. That said, this is a book I could happily recommend someone else read, as I suspect most would have a good time with it.

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