27 June 2010

I Capture the Castle

English teenager Cassandra Mortmain lives in a crumbling castle with her delightfully dysfunctional family, which includes her father, a writer who once scored it big with a literary masterpiece but now spends all of his time doing crossword puzzles and reading detective novels because he has a decade long case of writer's block; her stepmother, a ditzy but wise flower child model who means well--no, really, she does; her older sister, Rose, whose idea of romance and marriage are outdated by a good century; her younger brother, Thomas, who is almost as sly as Cassandra herself; and Stephen, a young retainer who is obsessively devoted to Cassandra. Cassandra--a budding writer--decides to record her family's impoverished life in a journal, thinking that it will improve her writing. What she doesn't count on is recording the hijinks that occur when the Mortmains, who are living the best they can on virtually no income, meet their new American landlords. Perhaps all of those years of not paying rent are going to come back to haunt the Mortmains unless the quirky family can ingratiate themselves with their extremely wealthy neighbors, preferably through marriage. ^^

Miss Marm recommended this novel for all devoted Anglophiles and I am so glad she did. (Thank you, Miss Marm!)I loved this charming book! This is an odd book to describe. The best I can come up with is it is as if Anne of Green Gables kept a diary, a la Anne Frank, but was a character in a Jane Austen novel. Cassandra is a wonderful narrator: funny, perceptive, sympathetic, and always believable, even when she isn't on her best behavior. Her spunk leads to a series of comic adventures, some painful, others hilarious. Overall, the funny far outweigh the sad, with my favorite one being the scheme Cassandra and her brother concoct to cure their father of his writer's block. I don't want to give anything away, but I laughed out loud for a long time while reading it.

As much as I Capture the Castle is an amusing comedy of manners, a touching coming of age story, and a wry tale of a writer's development, it is also a romantic comedy about Cassandra and her sister's often inept attempts to ensnare their young and quite available landlords. I am not a huge fan of romances--Terminally Single Zella can be jaded in these matters--but the resulting comedy of errors is genuinely engaging and author Dodie Smith crafts a charming romance that is neither too sappy or too serious. (Bonus points for a perfectly fitting ending that is neither too sappy or too serious as well.) Though the male characters are not quite as charming as Austen's heroes--who is?--they are definitely likable.

I used to think that the sad thing about being a Jane Austen fan is there are only six novels and once you've read them all, well, there is nothing else to read with Jane's trademark wit and style. Ah, but I was wrong. If you're a fellow Jane fan seeking a new favorite read, look no further than I Capture the Castle. Even better, you don't have to like romances to like this book. If you also enjoy a good coming of age story, quirky crazy British families, and light domestic comedies, this book is the perfect summer read.


Next: The Return of the Unblogged Chronicles. I forgot about them the past two months until Eric mentioned a book I hadn't blogged about. I shall try to post this before the end of June, but I may have to wait until next Sunday. We shall see. ^^


This Week in Literary History: 24 June 1842. Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce is born in Ohio. Ooooh, I so love Bierce! I say we celebrate by being snarky to each other. Ahem. Allow me to explain: I adore Bierce's delightfully wicked Devil's Dictionary, a must read for all fans of acerbic cynical humor, which sports such definitions as "To be positive: To be mistaken at the top of one's voice" and "Politics: Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles". Bierce was also a talented fiction writer. You have not lived until you have read his haunting Civil War short story "The Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge." (Here, I am so nice, I'll give you a link to it.) In addition to being a superb writer, Bierce led an exciting, adventurous life, which culminated in him disappearing off the face of the earth in 1914 while tagging along with Pancho Villa in Mexico.


  1. I think I've heard of this novel through Miss Marm too. Looks like I'll need to check it out!

  2. Jane Austen and crazy British families? I'm in.

    This is one of those I've heard about for a long time but never actually gotten around to reading; something about the title always caught my interest, though, so I'll have to get around to it one day.

    Otherwise, it's forever going to seem like a combination of Narnia and Castle in the Attic in my mind.

    At least your review cleared that misconception up...

  3. Very weird. I just watched the film adaption today and thought that I needed to read the book now.

    Thanks for the referral...this confirms my peaked interest in the story.

  4. @Scott: Yes, it's very funny! I know you don't really like Jane Austen novels, but I think you'll like the dysfunctional British characters here. :D

    @Rebel: I think you'll love this book! Cassandra is such a wonderful character who is a lot of fun to read about. Hehe I like the association you make with it. :D

    @AR: Thanks for commenting! That's so funny that you just watched the movie! *Twilight Zone music* I cannot wait to see that film. If it is anything like the book, it will be wonderful.

    Thanks to all of you for commenting. I can't wait to see what each of you thinks about the book. :)

  5. I have been wanting to read this, but I wasn't sure how good it was going to be. I will definitely read it now! I was very sad at the beginning of the summer when I finished Mansfield Park, my sixth J.A. book, and I have been wanting to read another one. I also hate (most) romance novels, so there wasn't a solution. (We are scarily alike in some ways!) I think I'll grab this at the library or bookstore the next chance I get :)

    P.S. Have you read any of Jane Austen's juvenalia (I don't know how to spell that word...)? I bought a little volume called "Love and Freindship and other Early Works" and Love and Freindship is hilarious (it mocks excessive sentimentality) and so is the Partial History of England.

  6. Hehe It is scary how much we're alike, Serena! (My last Austen was Persuasion and I was so sad. :( ) I think you'll definitely enjoy this novel--it is such a delight to read.

    Oooh, no, I never have! They sound excellent. I shall have to see if we have them in our library. Thanks! :)

  7. Yes, a good ending is important and I think it deserves extra points, too. :) This book sounds like fun.

    Right now I'm still working on the Stress book, which you mention. What is the Unblogged Chronicles? I don't remember.

    I had a collection of Bierce's Civil War stories on the shelf and now I can't find it. Did you take it? :) I didn't know he disappeared!! Definitely contributes to the mystique.

  8. Eric, this book is a lot of fun!

    Oh, yes, good endings are vital. I have liked some books until I got to the ending and they were just ruined for me.

    The Unblogged Chronicles were where I would do capsule reviews of all the books I didn't blog about. I totally forgot about it until you mentioned that book. Then I remembered I had planned to feature that on the next Unblogged Chronicles.

    *cough* I did not take the Bierce book. Ambrose just has a tendency to wander off on his own . . . ^^

  9. Ohh, this sounds like my type of book. I have always always wanted to live in a Castle, it would be incredible, and there are so many crumbling castles around the world! It sounds delightfully British and Austin-ish, I'll definitely add this one to the list! :D

    I read Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge this year...it scared me, wasn't expecting that ending. :P

  10. @scotty - Maybe you can think of it as a literary Faulty Towers? Then you can make it into a vid.
    @zella - Hmph. I can see I'm going to have to start writing my name in my books. ;(

  11. Feathery, my dear nerd twin, I always wanted to live in a castle, too! I do think you'll enjoy this one very much. It is a delightful read. And Miss Marm just announced today that this will be the next book club read! Hehe Yeah, that Bierce story is a little freaky. But I love it. :D

    Eric: *cough* What do you mean put your name in your books? Here, take this Bierce book. It happened onto my bookshelf. It looks lost. :P

  12. This is SweetTart :)

    I finally figured it out!

    I love this book. The only things I don't like about it are Rose and mopey Cassandra. Otherwise it was a great book.

  13. Yayayayayay! So glad you're here! :)

    Yes, I was not a fan of Rose at all. She seemed like someone I would not like in person, and Cassandra when she moped was nowhere near as fun as when she wasn't, but I agree--it was a wonderful book. :)