Monday, 18 November 2013

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

One book closer to having read all of the BBC's Big Read! Twelve books to go! (As long as I can track down the two books my library system doesn't seem to have....) And in pursuit of this quest, I read I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. I'd read her 101 Dalmatians before, but nothing else, so I wasn't at all sure what to expect. And this was a pleasant surprise.

The word, I think, is charming. It's a charming book, written diary-style. Well, at least sort of, in that the book is the main character writing to herself, but it doesn't tend to be as day-bound as Adrian Mole or Bridget Jones (that's not a knock against either of the two, just an observation.) So it's less about the amusing trivia of everyday life, and more about trying to capture those big moments in your life as they occur. And about falling in love, and becoming an adult, and caring about money, to appropriate or inappropriate degrees.

The main character, Cassandra, is in her late teens. She lives in a castle with her father, stepmother, older sister and younger brother. As the story begins, they are absolutely destitute. Their father, who wrote one literary sensation, has suffered from writer's block for the last 15 years. Their stepmother is an artist's model, but it costs almost as much to send her to London to model as she would make doing it. None of the children brings in money - in fact, they are entirely dependent on the income of Stephen, the son of their former housekeeper who is part one of the family, and part a hired hand. Everything of value in the castle has been sold, and they haven't paid rent in years.

The new owners of the castle arrived, however, and he turns out to be a big fan of the father's work, and shortly thereafter, to develop feelings for one of the daughers, and it looks like their fortunes might turn around. But are they doing anything for the right reason? Is the older sister looking to marry for money? What happens when love rears its ugly head and the father's new lease on the writing process seems to come out in creating puzzles?

This book is not about the plot. It's about the atmosphere of the castle, which I loved, and the characters, who are also endearing. Each is interesting in their own way, but I was particularly fond of Topaz, who breaks all literary stepmother molds by being young, compassionate, quirky,  and devoted to her husband and to his children. And, you know, who likes to go out naked into the fields and up the fairy mound to commune with nature.

This is not the book to read if you're looking for earth-shattering. It's a small study of an intriguing group of people, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Read as part of the BBC Big Read

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