Review: I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Today’s review is I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.

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Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk

 

What it’s about: Teenager Cassandra Mortmain has just started writing a diary about her life with her poor, bohemian family in a dilapidated castle in the English countryside. Cassandra chronicles daily life with her father (a one-book-wonder author who seems to have permanent writer’s block), her sister Rose (bored and in need of pampering), her stepmother Topaz (who tries to keep the house running while reminiscing about her days in London as a model) and her young brother Thomas, still at school. And then there’s Stephen, who writes love poetry to Cassandra, copied from the masters. All changes when an American family arrives at nearby Scoatney and two dashing young men attract the attention of Rose and Cassandra, luring them out of their previous rural isolation and into their first forays into love.

Holly’s review: This book is quite a grown-up sort of book. I would say it was for 12 and above. It is an amazing book because you discover about how life was like in the 1930s if you lived in poverty. It is about a girl who writes about her life. It is by Dodie Smith, written in 1949. I would definitely recommend this to people who are 12 and above. For example, it has bits in it that are a bit inappropriate for under-12s. Cassandra writes a journal and lives in a castle and talks about how her life depends on getting herself and her sister married.

Sam’s review: For some reason I had no idea that this book was aimed at older children – say early teens and up – rather than Holly’s age. In fact I don’t really think I had any idea what the book was about, only that it was one that had been recommended as a must-read. Most of the content was fine for Holly; since it was written in the 1940s, there was nothing too risque for her to read. There were just a couple of incidents where we wondered if it was a little too old (to explain here would be to give a spoiler) so we read on further before we let Holly continue on her own at school and during the daytime. I must admit to enjoying the book – it’s quite lengthy and nothing much really happens but the attraction lies in the characters, their motivations and their actions rather than being plot driven, like most literature for young children is.

It was a fascinating insight actually reading this alongside my Masters, as we’re studying children’s cognitive development in reading. Apparently ‘adventure series’ are popular with children around Holly’s age precisely because they are plot driven, full of dialogue, short on character development and end predictably, which is what children want. This book was a first for Holly because it didn’t match this formula. It very much followed Cassandra’s inner life and monologues (consistent with the diary format, but much wordier than, say, diaries like those of the Wimpy Kid) and often pages would go by without any dialogue at all. The ending doesn’t meet standard requirements for children of Holly’s age group and her reaction showed that – again I can’t say anything or I will give it away but suffice it to say she had had an image in her mind of how the book would end and when it didn’t she was quite shocked!

If you like novels such as Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, you will like I Capture the Castle. In fact, we might soon progress on to Gibbons’ classic, which is one of my all time favourites.

Have you read I Capture the Castle? What did you think of it?

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. I loved this book, but it has been several years since I read it. I would definitely not consider it a children’s book, although it is from a young person’s perspective. I liked the movie too, but not as much as the book. I believe the author also wrote 101 Dalmations.

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    1. Hi Emily,
      Thanks for your thoughts – you’re right too with the age. I think 12 upwards is the minimum for this book. I’ve yet to see the film but would like to. And yes, Dodie Smith wrote 101 Dalmations, which is why I erroneously thought this book would be OK for Holly – it’s shown me to do my research better! Though now Holly wants to read more by Dodie Smith!

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  2. I read this book when I was 10 (last year) as part of a reading program at my school and I loved it! I thought Cassandra was an incredible character and I could really relate to her. But I am a bit nervous about the film because films generally let books down, as they’re nothing like you imagined them. 🙂

    http://thoughtorchardblog.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks for your comment! We agree with you that books sometimes can be betrayed a little by films, intentionally or not. We preferred the book to the film of I Capture the Castle but both were good. Let us know if you manage to watch the film!

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