When I was eight years old, my aunt who lives in England would send me books that she thought I would like to read. These books were all children’s classics, books by Hans Christian Anderson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that kind of thing. One of those books is the one I’m reviewing now: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
This actually wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Dodie Smith. I had previously read a certain book about a large number of black-and-white dogs who escape from an evil fur-loving woman (you all know which one I’m talking about!), but that is for another time! I know that there is a 2003 film based on I Capture the Castle (featuring a young Henry Cavill) but I’ve never seen it. I was starting this book blind.
The story is split into three ‘diaries’ written by the fictional author 17 year old Cassandra Mortmain. Cassandra lives in a crumbling old castle with her father James, stepmother Topaz, older sister Rose, younger brother Thomas and live-in boy Stephen. Her father is a writer but suffers from severe writer’s block and hasn’t written anything for twelve years. The family have become poor to the point where they are selling their furniture to buy food. But when they meet their new landlords, the Cottons, things begin to take a turn for the better….
There are three themes to this story: Family, Friendship and Romance. While Rose feels frustration with her family and wants nothing more than to escape their dreary life in the castle, Cassandra loves her family and wants everyone to feel a sense of happiness. It is she and her brother Thomas who break their father out of his writer’s block and finally start him writing again. Cassandra knows that Stephen is in love with her but treats him with respect and friendship and encourages him towards his dream job in acting.
Things drastically change with Simon and Neil Cotton come into the picture. Almost right away, Rose sees this as an opportunity to step into the rich world. Cassandra sees this as a chance to make friends and experience something different in life. But then feelings come to a head and things take an unexpected twist for everybody…
Throughout the story, we can see Cassandra blossom from a naive little girl to a young woman who experiences her first taste of true love – and heartbreak. The diaries show her personal changes as the story progresses. Her relationships with Neil and Simon changed into something that I didn’t expect. I’m not going to spoil it for you; all I will say is that I thought she would end up with one of them but she ended up falling in love with the other. She writes her story in three books – the Sixpenny book, the Shilling Book and the Two-Guinea Book. These three books represent the financial (and familial) changes the families face throughout the story.
It’s not just the character of Cassandra who changes in the story. Her older sister Rose is definitely one of the early gold-diggers in the literacy world. When she sees the Cottons, all she initially sees is a chance for money and power. However as her own feelings begin to change, her character develops from a sneaky gold-digger to a woman deeply in love. Despite her sneaky ways, Rose is shown to deeply care for her younger sister and only wants the best for her.
There are some cases where the writing becomes a bit too confusing and you have to read it a couple of times to get your head round it. And I was slightly disappointed by the ending of the story (I’m saying nothing!). But overall, I Capture the Castle was an enjoyable read and definitely a stand-out when it comes to romantic stories.