My friend Jess and I decided that for Christmas last year we would exchange books so we actually ended up with a present we wanted (although, I don't think mine was quite as successful as hers so, sorry Jess!) And this was the book she gave me, informing me immediately that it was her favourite book, so if I didn't like it I must lie to her. Luckily though, it was great.
I actually finished the book about two weeks ago but I haven't had the time or motivation to write a review until now, but I will try to remember as much as I can. Actually the review might work better this way; it will certainly be shorter, which in some ways is a good thing, otherwise I can go on and on.
Anyway, the book. I'll be honest, from reading the blurb I was dubious about what would be inside. Names such as Topaz, Cassandra and Rose would normally have me planting the book straight back on the bookshelf without another glance (I guess that's a reason why getting recommendations from friends is great because it means you can discover things which otherwise you wouldn't touch with a barge pole). The basic plot is this: "Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. She records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother, Thomas, and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer's block. However, all their lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time". - at least she thinks she does, but I'll get to that later.
|Henry Cavill as Stephen|
'I Capture the Castle' is written by Dodie Smith, the author of '101 Dalmatians' which immediately suggests that it's going to be worth a read, and it came in at 82 in the BBC's Big Read survey of 2003. I could talk about the opening sentence - "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" - for pages, it's just brilliant. It also sets you up for the tone of the first half of the book, which is cheery and interesting.
However, I have to admit, good as this book was, Cassandra (the narrator) became ridiculously infuriating for the second half of the book after she had 'fallen in love'. The book is aimed at a teenage audience, I'm 17 so this does apply to me, but I couldn't really relate to Cassandra. She suddenly decided that she is in love with a man whom she has never thought of before, and really it's a ridiculous infatuation and completely unrealistic and annoying. The family's servant/ friend, Stephen, is said to have been obviously in love with Cassandra since they were very young, he's lovely and apparently so handsome he could be a movie-star. So what is Cassandra's problem? Topaz even questions her at one point, saying that when she was Cassandra's age she would have jumped at the chance to be with someone like Stephen. And any girl in their right mind would, especially if he looked anything like Henry Cavill, who plays him in the 2003 adaptation. So, in this respect, Cassandra wasn't much like any 17 year old I know, perhaps it would be more if her attentions were directed towards Stephen.
I do think, though, the troubles described by Smith, although set in the 1940s, are still relevant today and Cassandra is quite a deep character. In fact, the more I think about it, her lack of love for Stephen is more understandable in relation to her whole character; she isn't the average 17 year old as she has quirks and attributes which make her a little different, and it's the admittance of those quirks which most teenagers struggle to let out. I know so many people who are afraid to be themselves simply because they're scared of what people will think of them and, unfortunately, this can sometimes follow through into adulthood. This is, in some ways, what I think Smith is trying to tackle: the fear of letting ourselves out into society and the ridiculous amount of power we all allow other people, strangers, to have on our lives. And in this way, I really like Cassandra; she's a fantastic and refreshing reminder to be yourself and damn the consequences.
Because of this I'm incredibly happy I read this book and I'd recommend it to anybody. Smith sews a story of life lessons which can be unpicked by the reader, without the need to preach, and in doing so she created a fantastic story which, although infuriating at times, is suitable for all ages and refreshingly original. Smith's writing is fantastic and the ultimately serious message under a fun and interesting plot is brilliantly constructed. Smith's final message of undying hope is displayed perfectly in the quote: "I love. I have loved. I will love". 8/10. (So much for the shorter length of this review, I must try harder next time).