Monday, 22 October 2012

Book Review: 'I Capture the Castle' by Dodi Smith

I Capture the Castle
by Dodi Smith

Published: March 15th, 1998
Publisher: Wyatt Book
Source: Bought From Amazon
Format: E-Book
Pages: 352

Cover Art

There have been many different covers for this book over the years, but this is probably my favourite. It is just so pretty and simple, and perfectly reflects the old-fashioned and charmingly innocent nature of the novel.

Plot Synopsis

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.

My Rating:

First Line:

'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.'

Pocket-Size Review

Everyone told me that this book would charm me, and it completely and totally did.

Highs: A wonderful and unusual cast of characters and a beautiful, relateable coming of age story. The perfect depiction teenage daydreaming and first love too.
Lows: The main characters exasperated me many times during the book, which was both a positive and a negative really.


This book: thoroughly charming. Due to my recent aversion to reading blurbs, I didn't actually realise that this book was set in a castle before I started reading (the title gave me no clues whatsoever). Therefore, the gorgeous, looming, freezing, utterly spellbinding setting of the ramshackle castle was a wonderful surprise. It is the backdrop and foundation stone for the entire novel; this crumbling glorious place that sits unchanging and unmoving whilst the family inside it is growing and evolving. At its heart, this is a coming-of-age novel of the most beautiful kind, and watching the characters change and learn is both beautiful and heartbreaking, as it is always is when you realise that someone you loved has grown up or changed irrevocably.

Our narrator, Cassandra, lives inside the crumbling walls of the castle alongside her father, sister, brother, stepmother and the son of their late housekeeper. The family used to be wealthy bohemians, when Cassandra's author father was creating his literary, experimental novels that got the critics talking. Now, however, he is living in perpetual gloom and unable to write, and the family have been brutally slung into abject poverty whilst still trying to survive inside a huge castle that they are unable to furnish or maintain. This is no Bennet sisters poverty where it is said they are poor but they still live in a beautifully kept house with maids and cooks and wear pretty dresses; this is starving, cold and unable to afford clothes kind of poor. Most of their possessions have been sold, yet Cassandra's tone throughout is always grateful and hopeful. She has a very childlike and whimsical voice, yet she provides powerful and witty insights with the utmost tact and decorum. 

The main reason why I think this novel is so popular is that it is so painfully relatable. Cassandra daydreams about boys the way all teenage girls do; she imagines herself marrying or having lusty time with every man she meets and passes her time fantasising about love and being in love. What teenage girl can't relate to that? We were all mega lame at that age and we may as well admit it. Cassandra provides the most poignant and graspable description of teenage love I have ever read. What starts as innocent dreaming and small flirtations or affectionate words soon becomes a slight obsession for her and her feelings spiral out of control to something which she both wallows in and despairs about (again...come on....we've all been there.) One look, one word from a particular gentlemen leaves her in an over-analytical mess where she turns everything he has said into something huge and important. Personally, I don't believe it is love but rather grasping at the thought of love but that's just how I interpreted it.

The other characters besides Cassandra are all wonderful. I particularly adored Rose. She is fearless, affected and is described as learning the art of seduction from Victorian literature. Isn't that a wonderful idea? She kind of plays the part of a destitute Miss Haversham, lolling about the castle wallowing in self-pity and lamenting her isolation and loneliness. I found her very funny and very intriguing. This may be contrary to the usual opinion on the book but I was rooting for Rose the entire way through, and thought she had much more dignity than Cassandra. Their Father and his wife Topaz are the bohemian artists who have been exiled to a life away from the glittering heart of London to take on domestic life. You feel that the beautiful and ethereal Topaz is out of place in this world, and Mortmain, their father, is just playing the part because he is afraid of his old life rather than having any sort of domestic inclination. 

Overall, the magic of this novel inevitably comes from the depiction of unrequited teenage love and the desperation, longing, madness, irrationality, denial, excitement joy, pain and misery that come with it. Alongside this runs that age old message: money can't buy you happiness. Slightly cheesy but probably true.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: I really need to read more Louisa May Alcott. This made me want to have a got at something other than 'Little Women'!

Memorable Quotes: 

'I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn't write any more of it.'

'Usually he is either morose or irritable- I think I should prefer it if he lost his temper as he used to. Oh, poor Father, he really is very pathetic. But he might at least do a little work in the garden. I am aware that this isn't a fair portrait of him. I must capture him later.'

'As she only cries about once a year I really ought to have gone over and comforted her, but I wanted to set it all down here. I begin to see that writers are liable to become callous.'

'I'm wondering. Shall we say it's perfect for the sea and the sunlight- and the other Rose is perfect for candlelight? And perhaps what's most perfect of all is to find there are several Roses?'

'Oh, I'd love the clothes and the wedding. I am not so sure I should like the facts of life, but I have got over the bitter disappointment I felt when I first heard about them, and one obviously has to try them sooner or later.'

'Another great luxury is letting myself cry- I always feel marvellously peaceful after that. But it is difficult to arrange times for it, as my face takes so long to recover.' 

Three Words to Describe this Book: Lovely, Whimsical, Exasperating.

But Don't Take My Word For It...

  • Blog Reviews of  'I Capture the Castle': 

'The setting of the old, crumbling castle is perfect and the characters are entertaining. Cassandra's father gives a whole new meaning to the word eccentric! I would highly recommend this delightful coming-of-age story, it was a wonderful read.'

'I can’t praise I Capture the Castle enough. It was perfect, in every way. Magnificently written, with marvellous characters, an unique and uncliched plot, and the most wonderful, engaging and enchanting narrator to guide you through the ups and downs of the Mortmain family that you could ever dare to wish for.'


  1. This sounds like such a great book!
    I dont think I have ever read a story of someone living in a crumbling castle!
    what a fantastic review!

  2. I love this book. We discussed it a while back in my book club ( .. Did you know there is a movie? You'll have to check it out!

    Angela's Anxious Life

  3. I've heard so much about this one too...not sure why I haven't read it yet. Thanks for the reminder :)

  4. I feel like I've heard this book mentioned once or twice without really knowing anything about it. I'm still not sure I quite understand the plot of the novel, but your review has really intrigued me! Especially the idea of a family growing and learning from each other within the walls of a crumbling castle. So interesting! This sounds like a story I should have read when I was younger, but I guess I'll just have to correct the problem and read it soon!

  5. I think everyone who has read it loves this book. I think I just have to give in and read it already!

  6. I loved this book as well. I think it's timeless, the story written, what more than 60 years ago, still feels relevant today. The scene with the fur coat/ bear attack had me laughing so hard I was crying and the scenes with Cassandra and her object of desire made me smile from ear to ear. My favorite part of your review:

    "Cassandra daydreams about boys the way all teenage girls do; she imagines herself marrying or having lusty time with every man she meets and passes her time fantasising about love and being in love. What teenage girl can't relate to that? We were all mega lame at that age and we may as well admit it."

    God, yes! You hit the nail on the head with that statement:)

    Btw: have you watched the film version? It's not too bad actually.

    Lovely review. I smiled the whole time I was reading. I need to reread this book soon:)

  7. I love this book so much, and how atmospheric it is, and I have to say, if you haven't, you should watch the movie. They pulled it off REALLY well. I've been wanting to reread/rewatch, actually.

    And I'm not sure why it made you want to read more LM Alcott, but I love her, so may I recommend my favorite, An Old Fashioned Girl? You won't regret, and there are no torturous parts to get through like in Little Women. =)

  8. That's my favorite cover for this book as well! (Though I haven't read it yet).

    I don't know what you're talking about, I was in NO WAY mega lame as a teen. I swear! Okay...maybe a little. I have an aversion to blurbs as well! Mostly I go off of blogger reviews and friend recommendations--I love knowing very little about a book going in! I actually didn't realize that the narrator in this one was a teen. I'm glad you found it so charming though, I really need to get to it myself. =)

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