Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

For the last twenty-four hours I've been trying to settle on what my final thoughts are concerning I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I liked the story, but I don't know that I would go so far as to say I loved the story.

Told in the first person, I Capture the Castle is a coming-of-age novel about a girl, Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in a run down castle with her father, step-mother, older sister Rose, younger brother Thomas, and an orphan, Stephen.

As the story opens it is March in the 1930s and Cassandra is beginning her first journal. Through the journal she hopes to perfect her writing, but over the course of the next six months more than just her writing changes.

In March the Mortmains are on the edge of poverty. The family has thirty years left on their forty year lease of a castle near the coast of England, but it's been over a year since they paid any rent. Mr. Mortmain, an author, has not written a word since a tragedy occurred nearly a decade before this story is told. He spends his days locked in a gatehouse reading detective novels and filling out crossword puzzles. With all their valuable possessions long sold, Cassandra and her step-mother, Topaz, must scrimp and save what little earnings they have from Stephen's work at a nearby farm just to get food on the table. The girls even go so far as to dye their old clothing green just to give it new "life" and appear more presentable to the outside world. Life is indeed bleak, which is depressing for all of them, especially Rose who dreams of romance, fancy clothes and happily-ever-afters.

Enter two tall handsome Americans: Simon and Neil Cotton. Having inherited the Mortmain's castle and another nearby property from their grandfather, Simon and his younger brother Neil and their mother strike up a friendship with the Mortmains that could change everything. Over the course of the next few months the families encounters all kinds of adventures and the Mortmains work through some very difficult moments.

By the end of the book it is October and both the characters and their circumstances have greatly changed. For some there is closure, for others there are still unanswered questions.(Perhaps to let the reader draw their on endings?)

I came away feeling slightly sad. Not because the story was over, but because I felt that the characters and their story was in itself sad. There were definitely some funny moments, particularly the scene where Rose is mistaken for a bear, that was priceless! But overall I came away with the feeling that these people were missing something.

At one point in the story not long before they meet the brothers, Rose and Cassandra have a conversation late at night comparing themselves to the Bronte heroines and the Austen heroines. They never complete the discussion, but I couldn't help making a comparison of my own. I definitely see similarities, especially tid-bits from Pride and Prejudice and even Sense and Sensibility. But that is where I found the "something" missing. At the end of Austen's novels you have closure and even if characters aren't happily ever after, some how you are still satisfied. I Capture The Castle missed this. While the Smith was clearly inspired by Austen and Bronte she can not be considered on par.

As I mentioned in my post What's On My Nightstand, I found out about this book upon the recommendation of a friend. I am certainly glad I read it, but just can't add it to my favorites list. Like I said above, I liked it, I just didn't love it.

The copy I read is one I picked up on sale at Barnes & Noble. It's a paperback with 343 pages, which made for a steady, but easy read. It took me a little longer to finish this book because I permitted myself to be interrupted with two other books that I completed before picking this one up again. My recommendation is rather lukewarm... I can say I'd recommend this for a read as the writing is witty and entertaining, but I'd suggest borrowing a copy and reading it before deciding to purchase your own.

As a post script, this book was adapted to film in the 2003 movie, I Capture the Castle. Unfortunately the video is not widely available and rather on the pricey end at Amazon. I checked and my library doesn't own a copy, but a friend said she was able to get it through Netflix. I did notice that the movie is listed as rated "R", however my friend was shocked to hear that because she said she didn't recall any reason for that rating. It's possible that the rating posted is a mistake, but it doesn't really matter since I am unable to obtain a copy. I'd be curious to hear what others who have read the book or seen the movie version think.


Anonymous said...

I read the novel and then saw the movie sometime later. It's rated R for that one scene in the book, I think, where the heroine almost makes out with the boyhood friend/farm hand who works for them?? Can't remember exactly. By the time I saw the movie it had been so long since I'd read the book, I can't really compare them.

What I remember about the book is having the same feelings as you towards it. I thought it would have been better than it ended up being. I too felt sad.

Rebecca Reid said...

I can see what you mean. I read this years ago and I don't recall much about it. Not a memorable book, but not too bad to read.