Monday, August 18, 2014

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

This bitter-sweet story of teenage longing never flags in its brilliance.

Dodie Smith published her debut novel, I Capture the Castle (1949), when she was in her early fifties. Before that, she had had considerable success as a playwright. Today she’s perhaps best known for her children’s book The One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I Capture the Castle could best be described as a young adults book. It’s very much a coming of age story, dealing with adult psycho-sexual themes. I can’t think of a better, more consoling book to put into the hands of teenagers experiencing romantic turbulences and disappointments.

The novel is narrated by 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who is writing her story as a diary in three different notebooks. She lives in an old, run down castle with her father, a once famous novelist who has since gone a bit mad, an elder sister, Rose and a younger brother, Thomas. Topaz is the eccentric, nature loving second wife of Mr Mortmain (she likes roaming around naked) and Stephen is the good looking family friend who also lives with them. The family lives in genteel poverty. They miraculously survive in dilapidated splendour on practically no money, although they are all getting tired of their privations.

Things are complicated when new, rich American neighbours move in. Brothers Neil and Simon Cotton set up residence in nearby Scoatney Hall and become the new landlords of the castle. As the two sisters become friends with the brothers, a whole host of romantic complications start to set in. It ends happily for some, unhappily for others, and hopeful for still yet other characters.

This is a highly original book that perfectly captures teenage angst and longing. The crumbling yet splendid castle seems to be a melancholy metaphor for unfulfilled dreams of love and romance. In the voice of the intelligent and perceptive Cassandra, Dodie Smith sustains a 560 page narrative that never loses its integrity or authenticity. You feel the pain of being young and in love all over again in this bitter-sweet story.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Published by Vintage. ISBN:  9780099572886 RRP: $12.99

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