You know those lists? The ones that float around on the internet that tell you which books you ought to have read already and how you suck at life for not meeting an arbitrary milestone? Perhaps you just kind of ignore the smug implications of such lists. I wish I could. List bullies. Anyway. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is one of the books that often pops up on said lists, and I finally got around to reading it. Finally. It sat on my Kindle unread for like 2 years. Oops.
I Capture the Castle is written from the perspective of a 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. In 1934, she and her family have fallen on hard times. Her father, once a respected novelist, has the world’s worst writer’s block and as a result, the family is destitute. Ironically, they reside in an actual castle in the English countryside. It’s a dilapidated, leaky affair, but it’s got a moat! Broke, but not without eccentricities, the Mortmain clan’s adventures are recorded in Cassandra’s journals.
I fully expected to love this book. I mean, come on. A ruined castle with a moat full of quirky Brits and a dog named Heloise? You can understand where I’d be under that impression. Unfortunately, I had some issues with it. More specifically, I had some issues with the female characters. Just… Hear me out. (This is probably kind of spoilery, so read at your own risk.)
First, Topaz. She’s married to Cassandra’s father and models for artists. She’s a pretty great character, all artsy and glamorous even while half-starving in those crumbling walls. The problem? She has bounced from starving artist to starving artist seeing herself as a muse of sorts… And she FULLY EXPECTS TO BE ABUSED. Physically, emotionally, whatever. She just assumes it’s part of the deal. Because artsy types can’t help it?! Mortmain isn’t a monster or anything, but she’s almost disappointed by his lack of vitriolic mood swings. Unhealthy, yo.
Second on the list is Cassandra’s beautiful sister, Rose. Girl’s a gold digger, hardcore. Unfortunately, she’d expected by society and her family to marry for love and nothing more. Love is all well and good when you’re not literally starving in a moldering castle. It’s not like she had a whole heck of a lot of options. Frivilous and flighty, I didn’t much care for Rose, but I couldn’t fault her for making a cash grab. Homegirl’s gotta eat.
Finally. Cassandra. I know you’re 17. But come on. Let’s talk about poor romantic decisions, shall we? Who should one get hung up on? The fellow who is completely unavailable for very good reasons, OR the extraordinarily handsome fellow whose kind generosity in the face of poverty is equaled only by his adoration of you? WTF, Cassandra? Get a grip girl. And make it a grip on Stephen. Swoon.
Good news and bad news, I guess. I can now check another box off on my next judgmental internet quiz, but I didn’t love it. Ah well. Not every book works for everyone. Talk to me Bookworms. How many of you have read I Capture the Castle? Did you love it? Hate it? Or are you with me in Ambivalent-ville?
*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’m considering installing a moat in my yard, so, you could help me live the dream.*
Rachel @ Dashing Good Books
Interesting thoughts! I found myself disliking Rose a lot, but when I really thought about it, I couldn’t fault her for wanting to get out of poverty. I also totally get what you’re saying about Cassandra.. I think I sort of liked her more for it because she was honest even though it made her look bad. I guess she also reminded me a bit of me at that age 😛 I really disliked her dad though.. Get a job! Haha! Anyway, I can totally see how the book wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But hey, at least you can tick it off all those lists now 😉
I read it when I was 16 and loved it…my high school English teacher gave it to me to read. But I can see where you’re coming from.
I haven’t read this one, but I feel like we would be in sync on it. I would want to love it (castle! novelist! romance!) but I would be bothered by those things you pointed out, too. Seems like the kind of book it might be better to read when you’re younger and less likely to notice its flaws. My husband and I were watching a show once with a romantic plotline that made me roll my eyes so hard and I said, “I’m sure 16-year-old me would have eaten this up, but 31-year-old me finds it ridiculous.”
Leah @ Books Speak Volumes
I haven’t read this book (I have seen it on dozens of lists, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I think I actually might have the e-book?) so I don’t have anything to add, but now I’m pretty nervous about this book. I don’t really like creepy? And this sounds kind of creepy.
Amy @ Read a Latte
I’ve heard some great things about this, but it’s sounding pretty creepy!
Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies
I first read this in high school maybe, and really really loved it. Haven’t reread it since, and honestly don’t remember the finer details. I kept it because I knew it was one I would want to read again someday. This year seems to be the year of the rereads for me, so maybe its day is coming… You made some fair points, and it’s a-okay to not love a book just because it’s on some list 🙂
I read it several years ago when I was in my late twenties. I loved it. I liked the voice of the narrator – Cassandra – and liked how it described people in a realized way. And it was funny too.
I think I saw comments on both movie and book that were disappointed in Cassandra’s romantic choices, so you’re not alone there, and I’m sure when I was reading it, I was similarly disappointed in that regard, but for me, it didn’t impact my opinion of the book.
Jenny @ Reading the End
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, expectations are an absolute killer. I read I Capture the Castle before it started getting put on those lists — my mother happened upon it in a used bookstore and happened to read it and bring it back for us. So I went in expecting nothing and was delightedly surprised. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you though!
(Nobody in Dodie Smith’s books ever seems to get a satisfactory romantic outcome. Makes one wonder about her life.)
I looooved that book when I was young. Probably still would. I’ll have to re-read it. I didn’t have much a quarrel with any of the characters, as I attributed all eccentricities to them being British, doncha’ know.
You just took this one down a few notches form me. Well played!
Words For Worms
Sorry, LOL. I just… Couldn’t.
Katie @ Doing Dewey
For me, this really isn’t a must-read book and given the problems you had with it, I don’t think it’s going to become one!
Words For Worms
I feel like a bad influence now, LOL.