Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Capture the Castle: a review

By Dodie Smith
A book club selection (December 2012)
2.5 / 5 Gnomes
A review in 10 words or less: How living in a castle doesn't sound cool...

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"--and the heart of the reader--in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

~Amazon Description~

Perhaps it was all of the gushing reviews I read before starting, or the very large stack of books I personally picked out for my vacation taunting me from the corner of the room, but I didn't fall head over heals in love with the book.  Half way through I realized I'd seen the movie, and just about stopped.  But I didn't.  I continued on and never lost my ho-hum opinion.  I didn't dislike the book, it just didn't do much for me.

The Breakdown:

The Mortmain family lives in the ruins of an old castle in abject poverty.  There's 17-year old Cassandra (our narrator) who doesn't do a whole lot other than write.  Rose, her older sister, is pretty and suffers from an acute hatred of being poor, spends most of her time scheming ways to get married.  Topaz, the stepmother, is whimsical, beautiful, and hopelessly in love with her basically absent husband, but does seem to genuinely care for her stepkids.  Thomas, the young brother, goes to school.  Stephen, a young boy they took in, is madly in love with the oblivious Cassandra and becomes a male model and actor.  And Mr. Mortmain is basically a recluse who spends his days not writing his next great novel and instead loses himself in detective stories that the town librarian brings him.

So the family's "normal" is turned on its head with the arrival of the Cotton family, and especially Neil and Simon, two young men and possible suitors for Cassandra and Rose.

The Awesome:

I didn't hate anyone, which is pretty amazing since I usually truly dislike someone in a book.  I wanted to hate Rose, but you couldn't fault her for hating true poverty.  I wanted to hate Mr. Mortmain, but life didn't turn out quite like he expected.  And I wanted to hate the Cottons, but they seemed to genuinely like the Mortmain's, despite some ill-advised actions.  So, yeah, I didn't hate anyone.

Cassandra was fairly charismatic.  She was a bit naive, but fairly self-assured, and you wanted the best for her at the end of the book.

If you take all of Jane Austen's novels, pour them into a bowl, turn the clock to the 1940s, and stir, you have I Capture the Castle.  Not only does Rose dream of being in a Jane Austen novel, there are so many little moments that remind you of an Austen tale that it gets to be kind of fun finding them all.

The Not So Awesome:

What's with letting the nice boy you've known basically all your life slip through your fingers?!  Poor Stephen!  I so wanted Cassandra to get a clue.

If you take all of Jane Austen's novels, pour them into a bowl, turn the clock to the 1940s, and stir, you have I Capture the Castle. Yeah, I know I put this with the awesome, but it was also kind of not so awesome.  It felt like a rip off.  If I wanted to read this story, I could have just re-read the stories I love. 

So I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either.  It's a sweet, well-written story that's definitely worth reading.  Maybe if it hadn't been for a book club, and thus felt a little like a homework assignment, I might have enjoyed it more.  So it goes.

Happy reading!

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