iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review #57: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

If you’re the kind of girl who used to dream about curling up with a leather-bound book in the window-seat in your library, perhaps with a fire going and a cup of tea near at hand, then I’ve found your new favorite book.

Published in 1948, I Capture the Castle isn’t the tale of a medieval siege, but rather a sweet story of an innocent young girl trying to make the best of her unusual situation. 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain lives with her father, her stepmother, and two siblings in a dilapidated old castle in the English countryside, and writes about her days in a series of journals as practice for when she becomes a real writer. Decades after his first book made him a wealthy man and an influential thinker, Cassandra’s father has failed to publish a followup and has sunk into eccentricity. The family has no money for the upkeep on their wildly impractical domicile and has sold off the furniture to buy food.

The Mortmain’s luck begins to change when their landlord’s death leaves their lease on the castle in the care of the Cottons, a family of Americans who journey across the pond and become entangled in the lives of the Mortmains. Cassandra’s older sister Rose is hellbent on escaping the dreary poverty she has been consigned to, and sets her sights on marrying Simon Cotton, the oldest son and inheritor of the castle.

Rose’s ambitions are awkward for Cassandra, who understands how hard poverty is on her sister, and sympathizes with her while still feeling uneasy about the callous nature of her pursuit of a wealthy husband. On top of that Cassandra deals with the usual troubles of a young girl: first crushes, first kisses, conflicted feelings about love and boys.

Dodie Smith does a remarkable job getting inside the mind of her creation. Cassandra’s narration has not a single false note in it. If at times the narration is long-winded, or lacking in action, it is understandable as the writings of an inexperienced young writer. Ms. Smith is probably more famous as the author of One Hundred and One Dalmations, but I Capture the Castle is a rewarding read, especially if you can start a fire and curl up in the window-seat.

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