Discussion location: Utopia bar

Chosen by: Becki

Reason for choice: Friend bought it as a present as she thought I’d like it. Wished I’d discovered it earlier and younger.

Review:

Having just reviewed one journal novel, Any Human Heart, we embarked on another as I Capture the Castle was next out of the hat. Dodie Smith is arguably more famous for her children’s classic 101 Dalmations, yet her first novel I Capture the Castle has remained equally popular and has become almost rite of passage in ‘coming of age’ literature. Set in the 1930s, the journal details the innermost thoughts of Cassandra, a young girl living with her unconventional and penniless family in a half-ruined castle.

Cassandra brings to life her airhead older sister Rose who is seeking a rich man to marry, their withdrawn father Mortmain who wrote one successfully novel and since abandoned his children to spend his time reading detective novels, Mortmain’s second wife Topaz who spends her time wandering the hills ‘communing with nature’, and Stephen, the son of an ex-servant (now deceased) who is hopelessly in love with Cassandra and unaware of his handsomeness.

The novel changes pace when the American owners of the castle arrive, the devilish-looking Simon and his babyish-looking younger brother Neil. As the sisters become predictably involved with the brothers (I won’t ruin it by detailing the how and who), the family’s fortunes change and Cassandra experiences her coming of age.

There have been many reviews written about I Capture the Castle, most of which say largely the same, so I won’t rehash what’s been said before. Of the 8 members present, we had a 5\3 split of those who loved the novel and those who didn’t.

What we agreed on…

We almost unanimously agreed that the first third to two thirds of the journal is an enjoyable account of Cassandra’s amusingly honest judgements, vivid descriptions and observations, and sometimes hilarious anecdotes (particularly the bear incident). We agreed the novel was easy to read and for the most part, we wanted to know what would happen next.  We also agreed that the novel dragged in the final third and needed to be wrapped up quicker. In particular, the section with Mortmain and the tower came out of nowhere and did not fit in.  Here the agreement ended.

The five who did… 

Found the narrative so vivid and evocative that they could imagine the world through Cassandra’s descriptions. They trusted the reliability of the narrator (which is not always the case in journal style novels), finding her fresh, naive, nostalgic, and authentic. They liked the characters, finding Cassandra naive but endearing, and thought the story was “nice”.  They found the book engaging despite it being primarily aimed at teenagers. They found the tone simple yet beautiful. Someone used the world “ethereal”.

The three who didn’t…

Thought the book was “alright”, and not particularly memorable, “a lot of words and not a lot of action”.  They disliked some of the characters, finding Rose and Stephen annoying, ‘Miss Blossom’ immensely annoying, Mortmain a bad parent, and Cassandra childish and selfish in the final third.  One member thought the final lines could have been cleverer and more significant. They also found some aspects of the novel unexplained and unbelievable, in particular, the character’s motivations for forming their respective attachments (such as Cassandra’s sudden love despite no previous inclination).

Either way, it’s unarguable that the novel reflects well the depth of emotion of adolescence, the drama of every event, the time spent reflecting and self-analysing. Through Cassandra’s vibrant narration, this is bought to life.

Overall rating: 7/10

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