"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?
I read this when I was in my early-ish teens and I think it was one of the novels that made me suddenly decide that books are all I want (I blame this book for my ridiculous student loan from four years of English). So yeh, this book is awesome and you've just made me want to go for a re-read. It's going straight on to the list of books my parents need to bring me from Somerset :DReplyDelete
By the by, I hope you're doing ok and I'm still sending extra squishy virtual hugs.
Oh maaan, that's awesome! I don't really have any definitive books that made me go 'I LOVE YOU, BOOKS!' but it just feels like I've always been reading, kind of? But yessss, you do that re-read, it's AWESOME.Delete
I'm doing kind of meh, thanks for asking, but your virtual hugs definitely help so keep em coming!
So I've never heard of this book before. And really, other than the fact that you have good taste and are recommending it, nothing is really jumping out to make me want to read this. (Teenage diary, character named Topaz...) I might read it, but likely not for a while.ReplyDelete
Ok, yes, BUT remember that Cassandra is no ordinary teenager (lives in a castle, dad is a writer, is awesome) AND the best thing about Topaz is that her name is kind of a signifier of how ridiculous she is. Like, there is an awareness that Topaz is slightly ridiculous (except possibly from herself) which makes it all better?Delete
But anyway. It is excellent and I suspect you will love it only don't read it in case you don't and I have to hurt you a tiny bit.
OK if the name Topaz is an indicator of ridiculousness and not like "Oh wait, that's a totally normal average name." I may need to flip through a copy and see what's going on before committing to it. Cos I mean, you have good taste so I prob will like this. I need to get over the other thingsDelete
I always thought the castle was all metaphorical. Actually more inclined to read it now I kn ow it's about a teen in an actual castle (how fickle am I?).ReplyDelete
Yeah, it's a literal castle! And that's not so fickle- I think a story about someone who lives in an actual castle sounds much more interesting than a story about someone metaphorically capturing a castle!Delete
I've had this on my TBR list forever and never really knew what it was about but you had me at A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!ReplyDelete
Yaaaaay! They're not exactly the same, obviously, but there are definitely parallels and most importantly, I love them both so much!Delete
I love this too, so I enjoyed reading your review :)ReplyDelete
I first read it when I was about 23, and remember wishing that I had discovered it as a teenager.
Definitely wish I had done too! I mean, I was only 20 and I pretty much still felt like a teenager, but still. Definitely wouldn't have minded a Cassandra-shaped role model.Delete
Yup, you've sold it to me.ReplyDelete
I'd heard of it before, but I think I'd assumed it was some boring work of literary fiction. Apparently not. Onto the wishlist it goes!
Ooooh, definitely not literary fiction! Or, at least not BORING literary fiction. It's very fun and also sad and all the emotions, basically. It's pretty fab.Delete
Yay! I'm always thrilled when someone discovers and loves Cassandra. I didn't read this until 2010, but I love it so much! I never thought of how similar Cassandra and Francie are.ReplyDelete
I don't know how alike they actually are except that I kind of group them together in my brain, if you know what I mean? I think they'd be great friends, anyway. And I love them both :)Delete
Dodie Smith wrote 101 Dalmations as well. That might give you some idea of what the feel of what her writing is like. And oh my dog what did they do to that cover?!? I vastly prefer the one that has all the green flowers. The book was written in 1948 and that cover just does nothing for me. It is also a very quick read ... at least it as for me.ReplyDelete
I have never actually read 101 Dalmatians, but I've seen the Disney film, of course. Should I read it? And I KNOW about the cover, right?! I got the book from a charity shop and it was the first time I'd seen it for sale cheap so I was like YES! But it really is a terrible cover.Delete
Yes - that cover - it is going to attract exactly the wrong kind of reader or build up all the wrong expectations. Lovely book though. I has been ages since I read 101 Dalmatians - and I was at the age that my first thought was - well this isn't like the movie - there is much more detail and nuance. I will have to re-read it.Delete
So I heard of this book a couple years ago, bought it, and came THIS CLOSE to giving it away unread in my last book purge. You just made me really glad I decided to hang on to it.ReplyDelete
Yaaaaaaay! (That is so the major tone of my comments here...) it is really so good though. READ IT.Delete
I need to re-read this! I got it at a book sale a couple of years ago and this review makes me remember just how much I, too, loved Cassandra!ReplyDelete
Yaaaaaaaay! Always re-read this. Just, always.Delete
Just found this because someone came to my blog from this post. I love you.ReplyDelete