I took I Capture the Castle with me to Sri Lanka to while away the hours when it became too dark to spend time outdoors and bloodthirsty mosquitoes roamed around my grandmother’s garden. Dodie Smith was an author I had never heard of until one of the casual staff at work brought her to my attention. I was hooked from the first page but because I didn’t like the thought of it ending, I tried to spend as long as I could savouring it.
The main character of this story is a sixteen-year-old girl called Cassandra Mortmain who writes in her journal about her life in the castle that is her home with her somewhat unconventional and penniless family. Her father is a writer who was once hailed as a genius but he is suffering from writer’s block, her stepmother is a nudist who likes to commune with nature, her beautiful but scheming sister is waiting for a rich and eligible bachelor to sweep her off her feet, her younger brother is someone who we hear little about and the handsome servant boy appears to harbour an affection for Cassandra and works for the family for free. The interesting part begins when the owners of a mansion nearby come to live in it and happen to be two single brothers who end up bumping into Cassandra inadvertently while she is dying her clothes. However the two girls pursue the wrong brother cultivating sisterly rivalry and some misplaced suspicions along the way.
The word I would probably most associate with this book is whimsy. What I really enjoyed about I Capture the Castle were the journal entries reflective of Cassandra’s coming of age experience and was full of interesting pearls of wisdom giving voice to her thoughts on religion, reading and imagination. While the story reads like a Jane Austen tale with the two penniless sisters finding handsome suitors, I find much more charm in Dodie Smith’s writing.