Book Review: I Capture the Castle

I CAPTURE THE CASTLEI can hardly remember how this book got added to my TBR (it had something to do with Cold Comfort Farm), but I don’t think it would make most “best” lists out there. On the other hand, it is pretty solid for a—what?—YA romance? Classic YA? YA before YA existed? It transcends some of the more modern stuff, as well, and defies a solid category.

I knew very little when I started, and the book kept me guessing all the way through. What was this book? What was going to happen next? How was it going to end? I mistrusted the ending, never sure if this was the kind of book that ended happily or tragically. I won’t tell you here, except that it ended, for me, disappointingly.

You see, there are two main flaws with this otherwise intriguing book. First, you are never convinced in your subconscious of who Cassandra, the narrator, truly loves, so the ending has to be unfulfilling. This is related to the second flaw, which is that the book, in the end, assumes that Cassandra knew herself. While I was reading what is basically the diary of a teenager, (myself being in the thirties,) I was convinced that I knew better than Cassie. Why wouldn’t I? I was sure that there were clues pointing us to the truth while the narrator was still somewhat in the dark. Writing it that way would have strengthened the book tremendously, and not left the reader waffling. Also, being force to believe that Cassie was so insightful forced the reader to assume that Cassie was—instead of misdirected and growing—pretty darn cruel.

Even though those two flaws are fatal, the book is still an interesting read. What else is like it? The characters are lovable and eccentric (except for the ones who are hatable and eccentric), and the relationships are complex and realistically multi-faceted. Start with one girl and one journal, add poverty, disappointment, Bohemian artists, Americans, the 1930s, fame, England, romance, and a castle, and you have a recipe for something different. I really didn’t want to put it down. And I can’t help but wish it into the hands of teens who otherwise have a lot of the same-ol’ to read.

And the epistolary form works really well here, or at least until you realize it is supposed to be infallible. (In my opinion, character-narrators should always have some amount of untrustworthiness, and as I said before, I thought this was in Cassie’s not knowing her own heart. I thought.)

Although I had a fun time reading this book, I really wanted to re-write the ending myself, which would completely change one’s experience with the book. One of the characters ends up being a red herring, and the “truth” flies out at you from left field. A little author insight and subtlety would have gone a long way. So in the end, I can’t really recommend this book. Then again, if the set-up sounds irresistible to you, I think you will enjoy it.

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I read I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. I bought a used copy from Circle City Used Books—which is an awesome used book store. My copy is a 2004 Vintage version of the 1949 novel.

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I CAPTURE THE CASTLE MOVIEMOVIE

I love it when I can follow up a read with a decent movie. And that’s what this movie is. Decent. It does manage to capture the spirit of the book, even if many of the details had to be changed for the short form. In fact, they captured it so well that the movie has the exact same flaws as the book. Why would you watch this movie? (It’s a little slow on its own.) Because you have read the book and want to be able to visualize it. For this, it is good.

(Warning: there is nudity in the movie, of a largely nonsexual type.)

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QUOTES

“I begin to see that writers are liable to become callous” (p11).

“Rose says I am always crediting people with emotions I should experience myself in their situation” (p26).

“Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that is free” (p31).

“I have noticed rooms which are extra clean feel extra cold” (p65).

“I have an idea that it is a game that most girls play when they meet any eligible young men. They just… wonder” (p66).

“Cruel blows of fate call for extreme kindness in the family circle” (p89).

“The way one’s mind can dash about just while one opens a window!” (p116).

“Perhaps one not to ever count things one overhears” (p119).

“Gentlemen are men who behave like gentlemen. And you certainly do” (p124).

“…when things mean a very great deal to you, exciting anticipation just isn’t safe” (p190).

“…there are limits to human intervention” (p203).

“But it struck me that if a man is going queer in the head, he is the last person to mention it to” (p233).

“‘Why not?’ said Thomas. ‘His creative mind’s been un-trammeled for years without doing a hand’s-turn. Let’s see what trammeling does for it’” (p371).

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: I Capture the Castle

  1. I love this book, but do agree on the ending. I actually like all of the parts of the book which are not related to the romance storyline. The first time I read it I really felt like it was about writing, what with Cassandra’s diary and her father’s literary drought.
    And the scene on the train with the bear coat is absolutely priceless.

    • When I finished, the ending made me drop everything that I thought this book was about, like coming-of-age and discovery, and even broken relationships and neglect. I sort of ignored the writing part of it just because I feel too many writers write about writing. However, as you mention, there ARE some interesting subplots about being a writer (from two very different points of view), as well as other themes about being an artist, which I completely failed to mention in my review.

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