Don’t you just love the cover of this book? I have a thing for clouds and blue sky but the scene of the father running with his two daughters underneath a bright blue sky is totally endearing. It’s the cover of Dodie Smith’s first novel, I Capture the Castle.
The story is narrated through journal writing by 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. She intends to capture everything and everyone around her by writing about them in her journal. Her family is poor and they live in an old, rented but fascinating castle called Godsend in the county of Suffolk. Cassandra hopes to improve her writing by jotting down her thoughts and observations religiously in her journal.
Her family is an interesting mix of characters. Cassandra’s father, James Mortmain had a one hit wonder of a book but has ceased writing ever since. Now his family can only wonder if he’s trying to write anything else. Topaz, their stepmother, is described as a stunning woman who loves to play the lute and indulges in nudism to commune with nature. Cassandra has a beautiful older sister, Rose and a younger brother, Thomas. Stephen, the handsome, sensible servant-boy also lives with them and is utterly devoted to Cassandra. He takes extra care of her and showers her with small gifts every now and then.
Cassandra also compares her family’s situation with the Bennet family from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She wonders if their luck would be as fortunate as the Bennet sisters whose marriage to men from rich families had helped them rise to a better social status.
When two American brothers arrived unexpectedly at the castle one night, the Mortmain family had hopes that it could bring a good change for them. The Americans who are the Cottons also owned Godsend Castle and thus are the Mortmains’ landlords. Desperate to capture the hearts of the wealthy brothers, Rose behaves in a silly way during their first few encounters. But after a turn of events, they learnt more of one another and became friends.
It was the ultimate good news when Simon Cotton made a marriage proposal to Rose. She accepted it readily as she thought she was in love with him. Cassandra and almost everyone were happy for the newly-engaged couple. But she was puzzled when the other brother, Neil Cotton did not share their joyful sentiments. He pointed out that Rose was only marrying Simon for the money.
However, Simon kisses Cassandra when he visited for a Midsummer Eve family ritual. With it being her first kiss and because she enjoyed being in Simon’s company, she believes to be in love with him. Knowing that the man she loves would be married to her sister, Cassandra carries around with her the heavy weight of her love struck and shattered heart.
The first person point of view is used to narrate the story and by that, the reader sees everything that’s happening from Cassandra’s eyes and can only understand from what she can mentally absorb. She ought to get credit because she has an eye for detail and manages to describe almost everything in the most creative manner. She tends to ramble at times but that’s part of the point of having a journal.
I admit that the book was a slow start for me. It was alright in Chapter One but the pace went slightly downhill after that. It got better with the appearance of the Cotton brothers. They were “fresh” characters who brought life to the story. Meanwhile, Stephen is just so sweet that you couldn’t help but want to knock some sense into Cassandra and tell her that he’s the one for her.
Cassandra’s father is a mystery in the beginning. You would think that it’s sheer laziness as he hasn’t made the effort to do anything to improve the living conditions of his family who are already stuck in poverty. I thought it was ironic that the servant (Stephen) had to take up a second job elsewhere to bring money in. But then he’s already considered as part of the family so that can be overlooked.
All in all, this coming of age novel is beautifully-written and you’ll just bask in the vividness of the descriptions. Follow Cassandra’s journey as she learns about love, life, the people around her and herself. There is also a 2003 movie of the same name, which is based on the book and stars Romola Garai, Rose Byrne and Henry Cavill.
Pssst…..did you know that Dodie Smith also wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians? I loved that cartoon!