(NB it’s at least 18 months since I read this book, so… this review might be a bit flaky)
“‘What did you want a lion for?’ I asked. ‘Oh, they were kind of cute,’ he said vaguely. Then the kettle boiled and we took the tea in.”
This book has one of the most famous opening lines in literature: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” Thus we’re introduced to the zaniness that is Cassandra Mortmain’s life – a creative soul dying to see the grandeur of London, to be able to spend the money their accommodation boasts of, and to escape her equally desperate older sister, “fadingly glorious stepmother Topaz” (I can’t say it better than the blurb) and her depressed, stifled father. When the American heirs to the castle in which they live (the aforementioned expansive accommodation) turn up to claim their property, Cassandra’s life is turned upside-down – and not just because she’s head over heels in love.
The characters are what make this novel. Dimming beauty Topaz, slightly crazy but somehow holding the family together and keeping a roof overhead. Rose, desperate to escape the idyllic country exile, rushes into the first opportunity that presents itself, and is left plenty of time to repent. She’s an unusual first child (I have a certain sympathy for the birth-order psychology which appears popular these days) but certainly is headstrong and independent. I can’t figure out the Father character, but maybe that’s not necessary – it’s enough that he’s eccentric and creatively stifled and depressed and manic all at once. The conflict underpinning the plot is brought about by his inability to generate income as a writer – one of the saddest passages in the book is when Cassandra notes that she has seen him simply re-reading detective novels after a very short period of time, because the librarian knows he isn’t working and won’t give him more than one or two a week.
The writing: well, Dodie Smith writes children’s literature beautifully, we know that, and it’s just as unblemished here.
“And the feel of the park itself was most strange and interesting – what I noticed most was its separateness; it seemed to be smiling and amiable, but somehow aloof from the miles and miles of London all around. At first I thought this was because it belonged to an older London – Victorian, eighteenth century, earlier than that. And then, as I watched the sheep peacefully nibbling the grass, it came to me that Hyde Park has never belonged to any London – that it has always been, in spirit, a stretch of the countryside; and that it thus links the Londons of all periods together most magically – by remaining for ever unchanged at the heart of the ever-changing town.”
The romance is of course all tangled up and full of misunderstandings, as any book with a teenage protagonist should be. I still think that it should have turned out differently (without spoilers, but if you’ve read it you know what I’m thinking should have happened), but all in all perfectly satisfactory at the end.
A wonderfully beautiful book. Should be mandatory reading. It is testament to the book’s depth that Mini-Me, The Book Accumulator, The No Longer At All Resident Cousin and I have all absolutely adored it. I must re-read it.
Additional information:Origin unknown. It was just on the shelf. Publisher: Vintage Classics, 408 paperback pages Order I Capture The Castle (Vintage Classics)from Amazon* * this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting