I Capture the Castle
(Dodie Smith,  2004, London, Vintage)
This book was recommended to me by my dear Canadian friend in January 2017 and it’s been on my bookcase since. I finally read it at the end of June and haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s taken me so long to write about it because I know that no matter how much I ponder, reminisce, choose my words carefully, I simply cannot do this book justice. It’s a truly wonderful, beautiful work of fiction, exactly the sort of book I wish I could write. The seventeen-year-old heroine Cassandra is so entertaining and the first-person perspective of the diary form bellows with emotion: happiness, sadness, frustration, wonderment, dry humour and questioning. She finds dinner parties odd: we sit around and eat in front of each other, conversing while our food disappears. I’ve always thought about how strange this is as well.
The novel is beautiful and romantic: there are castles, history, first love, real love, affairs and heartbreak. And a gorgeous white bull terrier called Heloïse. It has everything I need in one perfect, spellbinding volume.
Cassandra’s father stopped writing after his single, successful novel. The family name, Mortmain (French, ‘dead hand’), reflects the man’s crippling writers’ block that stops him providing for his impoverished family. Yet Cassandra and her family, buoyed by youth, creativity and necessity, challenge this perceived death of progress by befriending the visiting family of next door’s inherited wealth and venturing into worlds they have no experience of. This is what fiction does. This is what reading does. This is what being an obsessive reader does.
To me, I Capture the Castle feels like a tribute to books and the act of writing itself. Paper is precious to Cassandra, as they have so little money that it is hard to come by. Her first notebook is a cheap sixpence one and as the story progresses and becomes richer, her writings and her notebooks do so too. I know a few stationery obsessives who will salivate at the burgeoning aesthetic of Cassandra’s journals.
I love this book and still haven’t returned it to the library; I honestly don’t know when I will. It’s a tribute to writing, to fiction, and ultimately to my dear Canadian friend whose enthusiasm for it made me appreciate it more. I hope hundreds of readers become as obsessed it with it as I am!