“I know of few novels—except Pride and Prejudice—that inspire as much fierce lifelong affection in their readers.” – Joanna Trollope
When most people ask me what my favorite book is, they do so while thinking that they already know the answer. Being the flamboyant Harry Potter fan that I am, they are a bit shocked when exclaim “I Capture the Castle!” followed by a deep sigh–a deep sigh that signifies how much I wish I was curled up and reading that book right that very moment.
My first copy of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (who also wrote the wonderful children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians) was given to me by my aunt (who was notorious for her excellent book recommendations) when I was in my early teens. I say “first copy” because that book is long gone having been lent to friends who then lent it to friends who then lent it to friends. So I bought myself another copy; one with a quote by J.K. Rowling on the cover (who is also a big fan of the book. If you go to her website at www.jkrowling.com and click on the spectacles, you will see Dodie Smith’s classic sitting on Rowling’s bookcase not far from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.) and have been rereading it and lending it to more friends ever since. I have even been known to check out a copy of the book from the library while my own is being borrowed, and was recently surprised by finding a cheerful yellow flower pressed between the pages of a copy from the University of Iowa.
I Capture the Castle takes place in 1930’s England where seventeen year old Cassandra Mortmain begins to journal her everyday experiences about her family and surroundings in order to prepare herself for a career as a writer. Luckily, her family and surroundings provide ample opportunity for expression: Cassandra happens to live in a crumbling castle on the English countryside that she shares with her father, a former famous author who has retreated into himself after a decade-long writer’s block, her step-mother, an eccentric artist’s model who holds the family together while also spending a great deal of her time walking naked around the grounds, and her beautiful, gold-digging older sister, who is determined to marry the wealthy American who just inherited the neighboring estate. But it is Cassandra’s own heart that keeps the pages turning as she grows as a young lady and learns how to break and be broken. I have never met a narrator so lovely as Cassandra, and reading her journals feels truly as natural as listening to my own thoughts. And so I will continue to read and reread and reread.