Goodness me. Books have been read, tea has been drunk, time has flown by, yet no new posts have appeared on this humble book blog of mine for weeks. I must apologise and make amends.

A few weeks back, my good lady wife picked Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle off our bookshelves, read it (well, re-read it, actually) and told me she thought I should read it also. So, read it I did, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle is a coming-of-age novel, told from the perspective of seventeen year-old Cassandra Mortmain. To very briefly sum up the situation that we read of in the book’s opening pages, Cassandra is living in a dilapidated, leaky old castle with her family, who barely have two coins to rub together, and seemingly no means of bringing in any income.

Cassandra’s father is an author, with one famous, albeit “difficult” novel to his name. However, he has been suffering from complete writer’s block for several years and it does not appear at all likely that he will ever write again. Joining Cassandra and her father in this sorry situation are Cassandra’s step-mother, Topaz, her older sister, Rose, her younger brother, Thomas, and Stephen, the son of the family’s late cook.

She had her best dress on which is Grecian in shape, like a clinging grey cloud, with a great grey scarf which she had draped round her head and shoulders. She looked most beautiful – and just how I imagine the Angel of Death.

I love the central character of this novel. Cassandra is at once, both young and innocent about much in life, yet also on the very cusp of adulthood, or, to be more specific, womanhood. She is, at different points, bright, sombre, happy, forlorn, friendly, withdrawn, romantic and cynical. She is also very intelligent and remarkably perceptive, all of which make her a very endearing protagonist.

The narrative is made up of Cassandra’s diary entries; a device that works well in this novel, and which gives us the classic opening line:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

I would not want to give too much away, but a couple of rich American brothers appear on the scene and much of the plot revolves around the relationships (potential and realised) that Cassandra and her sister Rose embark upon.

In some ways, the book could be seen as a fairly light, romantic novel, particularly appealing to young ladies. Certainly, if the book’s publicity is to be believed, generations of young ladies have enjoyed reading it. However, the novel is much more than a simple romance. Like any good coming-of-age novel, there are highs and lows; deep questions about life to be grappled with; relationships to be worked out; and an ever-maturing sense of who one is to be established.

There are also some fairly meaty themes in the book, such as the cost of producing great art; the boundaries of personal responsibilities; and the question of what sacrifices can or should ever be made for love.

The real skill is that all this is dealt with in a very natural, flowing manner. The prose is excellent; descriptive but never boring, playful but not superficial. The novel is also very well structured, with a few good twists and turns along the way to keep the pace taught.

There was a wonderful atmosphere of gentle age, a smell of flowers and beeswax, sweet yet faintly sour and musty; a smell that makes you feel very tender towards the past.

A very enjoyable novel, especially if you are looking for something fun and lively yet with a slightly nostalgic, enchanting tone. And if you liked this, you might also enjoy Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie.