Friday, December 11, 2009

I Capture the Castle

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is one of the funniest, most charming novels. I am a bit phobic about writing about humor, because I can't do it justice, but I will say that Dodie Smith’s books hover somewhere in the stratosphere between Jane Austen and chick lit and amuse almost everybody. I Capture the Castle is considered Smith's best book. My favorites are A Tale of Two Families and The New Moon with the Old, but they're not in print, so it's a moot point. Anyway, I Capture the Castle is a perfect book, a classic that never made it into the canon. Nick Hornby lists it as one of his Top 5 Favorite Books at his blog.

The novel begins: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cozy."

It's a running joke throughout the novel, all the different places the 17-year-old diarist Cassandra writes her diary. She "captures" the mouldering, isolated, unromantic castle where she lives with her eccentric family, one of two marriageable daughters near a scarcely populated Jane Austenian village (there are no eligible men).

James, her has-been writer father, has ceased to write, and royalties are dwindling; her stepmother, Topaz, is a former model who communes with nature in the nude; her moody beautiful older sister, Rose, is almost 21 and ready to sell her soul to the devil and her body on the streets to get away from home; her ordinary younger brother, Thomas, is still at school; and Stephen, the sexy servant (actually a servant's son who continued to live with them after she dies), is ironically the only one of the bunch who can make any money.

Cassandra describes Rose and herself as "Austen-Bronte girls" and parallels their attitude to love to that of the Bennet sisters.

“But it has come to me, sitting here in the barn very full of cold rice, that there is something revolting about the way girls’ minds so often jump to marriage long before they jump to love....I am judging from books mostly, for I don’t know any girls except Rose and Topaz. But some characters in books are very real--Jane Austen’s are; and I know those five Bennets at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, simply waiting to raven the young men at Netherfield Park, are not giving one thought to the real facts of marriage.”

I discovered my first copy of this at Good Will when I was in junior high, read it several times, then put it aside, then went back and bought it again three decades later. Have I read it 12 times?

When you're snowed in there's nothing like I Capture the Castle.


StuckInABook said...

I love this book, though I've only read it once (I also love the film, one of my very favourites). I want to read more Dodie Smith, but it all seems so hard to find... some friends have recommended The Town in Bloom, but it's not affordable...


Frisbee said...

I'm so glad you like I Capture the Castle. Now I know of two men who like it: you and Nick Hornby.

It's so difficult to find these books. I really enjoyed all of them. I found some good deals but did pay $25 for A Tale of Two Families. My argument was that I might pay that for new book.

I hope you can find The Town in Bloom. It's a lot of fun. Maybe inter-library loan? (I'm thinking about using that more myself.)

verity said...

I love this and can read it again and again. I'd love to read more Dodie Smith but have had same problems as Simon - just not available in libraries either,.

Frisbee said...

Oh dear, I did a quick book search and the prices have gone up since I bought them. The cheapest I could find was The New Moon with the Old: $26. I wonder why someone like Virago doesn't take a chance.

Vintage Reading said...

I do like that cover. I first discovered this novel a few years ago after reading an interview with J K Rowling who said that it has one of the most highly original narratives in fiction. Like Simon, I'd like to read more Dodie Smith. I only know of that dalmation book!

Frisbee said...

I hope you can find one of her books. The Dalmatians book WAS pretty good, if I remember correctly, but that was many years ago!

Anonymous said...

Dodie Smith's other books are being reissued by Constable & Robinson in 2012.

Frisbee said...

Thank you so much for letting me know this! I love her books and have thought it's a shame so few are available.