Review: I Capture the Castle

Review: I Capture the CastleI Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press on 1948
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 343
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the heart of the reader--in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

This is my second time through I Capture the Castle. Although I did not get sucked in like I did the last time I read the book, I still very much appreciated the writing. The story is told in a diary format. Cassandra is an aspiring author, who is practicing writing naturally by relating the events of her life. Telling stories through diary entries is rather a classic trope for coming of age stories, but there is a reason for that: it works well (when done right).

I Capture the Castle is a romance. But it’s not a romance in the sense that we tend to think of today, the kind with an open-shirted man on the cover and corsets. In fact, this is exactly the kind of love story that I hated when I was younger. In that way, it reminds me of A Room with a View. The main character (or characters in this instance) make terrible decisions with regards to romance. They choose the wrong men knowingly and are loath to change their minds, even though they are empowered enough to make their own decisions.

When I was younger, I thought these characters such fools for making such obvious errors with regards to their personal lives. How could you think yourself in love with someone for whom you clearly have no feelings? How could you lead on that poor soul who had the misfortune to fall in love with you, even though you know you will never fall for him? Why would you settle for the one you don’t want when the other is within your reach? Stupid girls, I thought. So unrealistic. Then, I grew up and realized that emotions are really complicated and that situations that seem obvious from an impartial viewer are exceedingly difficult to deal with when you’re embroiled within them. Once I realized that, I came to find these love stories so much more meaningful than the garden variety romances one reads nowadays.

The novel moves a bit slowly at times, as there are a number of mundane details included to make the setting and characters feel real. That certainly does work and it does really feel as though you are reading Cassandra Mortmain’s journal and not Dodie Smith’s novel. This slower pace may lose some readers, but I think it is worth the effort.

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