I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (she of 101 Dalmatians fame) is set in 1930s rural Suffolk where seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her family are living in genteel yet fascinating poverty. Her father is a famous author who once wrote a very good book but has since been unable to pen another, her stepmother is an artist's model who enjoys communing with nature and her sister Rose is beautiful but bored. Then there's live-in hunk Stephen, who is devoted to Cassandra and keeps dropping lines of poetry into her hands.
The family is surviving by selling their furniture, but everything changes as the local manor house Scoatney Hall is inherited by Simon, a dashing young American who takes up residence, along with his brother Neil. Life is definitely about to get more interesting for the Mortmains...
The novel is written in the form of Cassandra's journal and her voice is as clear and engaging as I'd remembered. Half-child half-woman, she is a narrator who instantly takes you into her confidence, appealingly honest, funny and perceptive about herself and those around her. Her life's ambition is to be a writer and she practices by 'capturing' her characters with vivid and unsparing descriptions. As the story unfolds, it appears the family's poverty can only be alleviated by Rose making a good marriage, unless their father can be coaxed into writing again.
But then I'm applying too much realism to a story set in the 1930s and written in 1949, in the aftermath of World War II when escapism was just what was needed. A rather well-written, superior form of escapism is just what is provided by I Capture the Castle, a book you don't so much read as live within.I still enjoyed it second time around - not quite as unequivocally as the first, but the fabric of my dreams is very much intact.
Have you read I Capture the Castle? What did you think of it?
(pictures from film courtesy of inkcrush.blogspot.co.uk)