I Capture the Castle

I've owned this copy of I Capture the Castle for several years (I bought it second hand but it was so long ago I can't remember exactly where it came from -- I paid $12) without realising that the girl on the cover is actually a very young Romola Garai, from the movie adaptation. (I have been trying to watch the movie for days but it isn't on any of the streaming services at the moment. Someone said it was on Kanopy, which I managed to install -- but it wasn't there either! Except in Egypt, apparently...)

Anyway, I had forgotten how much I adore this book. It was absolutely perfect comfort reading, and my only complaint is that it could have been ten times longer and I would have happily gone on reading it until quarantine ends. Thank you, Susannah, for reminding me about it!

It reminds me somewhat of my teenage favourite books, Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate -- but Nancy Mitford can be brutal, there is a sense that she will ruthlessly sacrifice anyone for a laugh. Dodie Smith is far kinder. Her characters are just as charmingly eccentric as Mitford's, but there is more love. Is Cassandra, our narrator, 'consciously naive,' as she is described at one point? She grows less innocent and more mature as the book progresses, as she experiences the bitter bliss of first love, the agony of that love being unrequited, the complicated envy of her sister, and the whole wretched 'game of second-best we have all been playing -- Rose with Simon, Simon with me, me with Stephen...'

A modern reader will find it credulity-straining, perhaps, that none of the family is able to get a job of any kind, but that they all sit around waiting for their father to write another book, but the girls were not educated with employment in mind.

I Capture the Castle is also  very funny -- the scene with the bear, the green hands, the abduction of their father -- but for all its eccentricities and its bizarre setting (they live in a ruined castle, less romantic than it sounds), its heart is true. I'd remembered it as having a more straightforwardly happy ending, but in fact the bittersweet balance between melancholy and hope is pitched perfectly. I don't think I could love this book more.

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