Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Castles and Comfort

Winter brings out the romantic in me. Not so much lovey-dovey romance, but the romantic spirit, like Byron or Shelly. I want to read a book while cuddled up and drinking a warm beverage, preferably in a mountain cabin with a roaring fire in the hearth. You get the picture. This mood makes me want a sweet and atmospheric title, something typically in England and about rural life. Perfect timing for I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

Originally, this book was published in 1948, but it takes place in 1930s England. It is told as a 17 year old girl’s journal. Cassandra is a bright girl with hopes of becoming a writer. The Mortmains live in a castle, literally a castle with towers and a moat, that they have a 30 year lease on. Although once a successful writer, Mr. Mortmain is now an eccentric man who keeps to himself and reads detective novels alone in the gate house. He hasn't written in years and the family is in dire straits without an income. The novel starts out with the family struggling to find money to live on. As the novel continues, adventures and new neighbors rouse the Mortmains from the doldrums and poverty.

Cassandra is an energetic, witty, and sweet narrator. She writes from her heart and is down to earth. The ending is bittersweet and I was surprised to find that it did not wrap up the way I expected. This was the perfect book for my mood. It is relaxed and atmospheric. I got the feel for the countryside and ancient castle. As in many journals I did question the author's truthfulness and her true character at first. You never know if journal writing makes the person more bold and energetic than their actual personality, but after several chapters and hearing about how Cassandra described situations she was in and conversations she had, I got the feel for her and came to really enjoy and trust her.

Originally, I was a bit bored with the book. It was slow and didn't seem to be developing into anything other than a desperate family searching for a way out of their needy situation. After about 30-50 pages, however, the plot started to develop and Cassandra hit her stride in writing.

I very much enjoyed this novel. It was pleasant and lovely. The narration was one of my favorite parts and the characters were memorable. I enjoyed the eccentric family and Cassandra’s details about them. The last chapter of the book was so well done and the last lines will forever remain in my memory.

If this is a novel you enjoyed as well, try reading The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper. They are also about an impoverished family who used to be something more. The novel is written as a journal from young Sophia’s perspective. If you want something a little more offbeat, but still a coming of age story in an eccentric atmosphere, try Swamplandia! byKaren Russell. I would certainly tell any Jane Austen lovers to give this one a read as well and vice versa.

~Kristin M.

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