"But words are very inadequate- anyway, my words are."
I Capture the Castle is a book that I truly believe every teenager should read, which is weird because I didn't even know about it until I was 20. Actually, if I'm honest, I should be making Frances write this review instead of me, because I completely think of it as her book- the first I ever heard of it was her casually dropping it into conversation (as in, 'something something, like in I Capture the Castle'. Me: 'I do what with the who now?') and from there it only took watching a tiny bit of the film to convince me that I needed to read the book. And, honestly, I loooooved it.
So, in the spirit of reading comforting things, I decided to pick this up and hope it was as lovely as I remembered it being. And it really is lovely- I know that reading a teenager's diary sounds like the least compelling thing ever, but Cassandra Mortmain isn't a regular teenager, her family is not a regular family, and her diary is not at all like a diary. Really, the diary thing is an excuse for making Cassandra the narrator, but at the same time, it's a way of making the reader understand that this story isn't necessarily the definitive version of what's happening, but rather it is Cassandra's definitive view of it.
All of this means that we have to love Cassandra or the book won't really work, and maaaan, do I love Cassandra. She's not perfect at all, nor would she describe herself as perfect, but she is a perfectly drawn character, and you can absolutely imagine being her friend, sitting with her in her castle, hanging out and talking about all sorts of stuff. Oh yeah, that titular castle? Totally an actual castle. The Mortmains aren't a rich family, but they're the kind of family who used to be well-off, and are still considered to be that, but also sort of aren't. Kind of like one of the families in a Jane Austen novel, who have to rely on the kindness of strangers/distant family relations to get them through the year.
Like those well-to-do families, nobody in the castle actually works. Well, to be more specific, Mortmain (Cassandra's father) tries to work, but more often than not comes up short- he's an author of some notoriety who published one terrible sounding book ages ago (he's compared to James Joyce at one point, and I think we all know how I feel about modernism* so basically I would never want to read his book) but has run up against writer's block. Topaz is Cassandra's stepmother, a former artist's model who sometimes communes with nature all naked and whatnot, she has a sister, Rose, who just wants a simple life of stunning luxury, and, of course, the delicious Stephen, who is the sweetest, and looks like a Greek God, and is so in love with Cassandra, and I WOULD SO MARRY HIM but he kind of doesn't do anything for her. Which is a shame.
But anyway- they all live in the castle and get along as best they can, sort of believing that nothing interesting will ever happen to them until it does and that's basically the whole of the book. I don't really know how much I can get away with telling you about the story without ruining the whole thing for you, mainly because I really didn't know much about it going into it at all, which made the experience of reading it all the sweeter. If I was going to compare it to something, I guess it would be sort of an English A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (which I really must re-read) or, at least, Cassandra reminds me of an English Francie, probably mainly just in that I love them both so much.
Basically, in a nutshell, some non-spoilery things that go on in this book: first loves and what that's like, poverty and the boredom and often solitude that goes with it, dealing with being loved but not loving in return, and loving and not being loved in return, art and the way it makes life meaningful, religion and the way it makes life meaningful, the perils of getting everything that you want, the perils of someone else getting everything that you didn't know you wanted, and the perils of dressing up like a bear to escape embarrassment.** It basically contains everything you'd ever need a novel to have and more.
So yeah. I guess technically this counts as a YA novel, and I know Cassandra would have been my number one role model if I'd read this when I was younger than she is in this book*** (seventeen), but even without that factor, I still really and truly adore this book. To me, it feels instantly relatable, is so funny and witty and then thoughtful and (sometimes) sad, and just has everything you could want from a book. I don't even have to tell you to go and read it now, do I?
*Actually, do we? I feel terrible about it. It makes me think of The Emperor's New Clothes, basically, in that 'well, just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean that it's bad' way, except that I kind of think... If I don't understand it, and if nobody understands it, doesn't that sort of make it bad?
***It's too weird to have a role model that's younger than you, right?