“I only want to write. And there’s no college for that except life.”
I grew up being a massive book worm, one of the main reasons I did an English degree. I thought it would open me up to a whole world of new literature. It did, but it also kicked the love of reading out of me at the same time. I didn’t read one book during term time that wasn’t on my syllabus for the whole three years. When you have to read 2+ books/plays etc a week, any free time is spent well away from them.
Despite this, I still always read on holiday and in summer. I buy books throughout the year with the intention of reading them when Uni is over. Now that it is, I am finally beginning to work my way through the piles of texts I have accumulated. The first book I read after Uni was I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. I love books that are somewhat of a classic, but that are also a bit niche. I’m not one to jump on the band wagon with books usually.
I haven’t read any of the Youtuber/Blogger books because I like to support true authors. That sounds super bitchy, but someone with thousands of followers is always going to make sales. It doesn’t fully reflect quality. My degree has also taught me to look deeper into books and novellas, appreciate the language, so I find a lot of the popular books quite shallow. I’m starting to sound super snobby/tw*tty (take your pick) so I’ll get on with the review.
I grew out of loving samey books about career girls who moved somewhere and fell in love with an unexpected man. I LOVE books about sisters and family relationships, which is why this book appealed so much. This book was written during the second world war and has definitely aged well.
It is a modernist text that tells the story of the Mortmain family in the 1930’s. The protagonist is 16 year old Cassandra, the whole book is a detailed diary of the events in her life. She lives with her beautiful but dizty sister Rose, her hippie stepmother Topaz and her father who was once a successful writer but spends the novel suffering from writers block. They also live with her brother Thomas and the son of their deceased maid, Stephen, who is in love with Cassandra.
The family live in a romantic but dilapidated castle in Suffolk that they rent, however their father’s lack of writing meant they had to sell almost everything just to afford to live. Rose longs to marry into wealth and the families luck seems to change when the new owners of the castle turn up out of the blue. The Cottons, a wealthy American family inherited their beloved castle and become their new landlords. The girls soon capture the attention of the two young sons, and that’s all I’m going to say. It’s difficult to describe the book without making it seem too simpering, but the characters are all so beyond that.
This book was such a beautiful read. I was enchanted, frustrated, emotional throughout. The amount of different romances and relationships is such a rollercoaster. I think my favourite character is Cassandra. She is so knowledgable about literature and makes several references to poetry and other novellas. She also has an almost saintly ability to reflect on herself and her actions, something I wish more people were able to do. Despite this, she doesn’t come across as pathetic. She fills three notebooks of entries in her life, full of witty and poignant dialogue. Her age does not mean she is immature, anything but. It is near impossible not to feel attached to her and to build a relationship. Even her sister Rose who comes across as shallow and money-hungry is impossible to dislike. They also have a dog that is mentioned often and makes me very happy.
I must say, it is one of the first instances I have read of teenage girls not hating their stepmother. How can they, when she is absolutely captivating, passionate and creative. She’s almost like a fairy, ‘faded glamour’ is the perfect way I could find to describe her. There is something almost theatrical about the whole family. It’s also a very funny book, although the poverty doesn’t sound so hilarious. One particular episode where Rose wears a fur coat but is mistaken for a bear and chased springs to mind.
Honestly, I can’t understand why this book isn’t taught in schools or on more Uni courses. It has been made into a film as well, but part of me doesn’t want to watch it and risk ruining the magic. I like that the characters don’t really have faces when I imagine them. I can’t imagine anyone capturing the magic of her whispering into the reader’s ear throughout that Dodie Smith does. Admittedly, some people may find the ending unsatisfactory. I prefer to see this as Smith leaving the characters alive. They are too realistic and brilliant to be tied up into a neat little bow, real life isn’t like that. Not only did Cassandra capture the castle, she captured my heart.
Buy the book HERE!
“When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it – or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don’t suppose many people try to do it.”