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I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

May 15, 2009


I Capture the Castle is a novel that takes the form of a collection of journals kept by seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. It’s the 1930’s, and she and her family live in an abandoned castle in the English countryside. They’re poor and have barely met ends for several years. But when two young men, Simon and Neil Cotton, appear in their lives, their fortunes take a turn for the better, and everyone at the castle starts to change.

I found that I couldn’t put this book down. I read it in a week. The smart and witty voice of Cassandra, who aspires to be a writer, hooked me. She is a strong main character, with whom I felt an immediate connection. Dodie Smith has Cassandra first state her feelings on a subject, then go back and explore them. It’s a compelling way to capture a reader.

Because the story is told through Cassandra’s journals, I was also able to chart her literary progress as the book went on. The setting is revealed in such exquisite detail that I was surprised the view from my window was not a moat or a summer field.

Dodie Smith (better known as the author of 101 Dalmatians) creates a cast of complex and quirky family members and friends, who are shown in contrast to Cassandra as she records her speculations and constructs a vivid picture of each person: her father at his writing desk, her sister on the window seat, her step-mother dancing through the rain. In the first few pages, Cassandra states that she will “capture” herself and those around her in her words. By the end, she succeeds.

I found that I Capture the Castle touches on the importance of family, forgiveness, and how life can’t always be planned out. The conclusion left me satisfied with the way that Cassandra accepts whatever happens next.

I would recommend this book to anyone who liked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, because there is a similar attention to detail. I would rate it a ten out of ten for transporting me into another girl’s head and heart and providing a sensory, believable look at an ancient castle and its occupants.


Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin

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