While visiting my Aunt in Maryland two weeks ago, she decided to raid her bookshelves and collect an assortment of books that I should consider reading as we flew to Florida the following day. In the mind of my Aunt, most of her children, and myself- you can never go somewhere without reading material. So amongst the pile of books I found one that seemed to be a relatively easy read but something I had not seen before.
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith, was a complete discovery on my part. The childhood memories of the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians never involved the fact that it was originally a written book. Sure enough this Dodie Smith had written it. I figured, if J.K. Rowling is praising the book on the front cover and the author also created the fun story The Hundred and One Dalmatians, then the book must be so much more than a relatively easy read. I quickly found a suitable bookmark and brought it to bed with me that night to read. I continued to read it the following morning in the airport and most of the two hour flight that followed. The book, however, was put down for the following three days. Not because I was bored, oh no, I wanted to keep reading it, I wanted to soak the words into my brain. It was simply that my large family, whom I rarely got to see, took over my life for those few days in Florida.
I resumed my reading on the flight back from Florida and continued to read it for the following few days while I had my house to myself. Once my Aunt came home with my mother to stay for a night I finished the book and happily presented it back to the rightful owner's hands. She smiled and asked me the best question that I could have possibly wanted her to ask, "So, what did you think of it? Did you like it?"
Yes. Yes, my fellow readers, I enjoyed it. The book is written for teenagers and children but it can also entertain the adult mind. The story follows seventeen-year-old Cassandra as she lives in a castle that is falling apart with her older sister, younger brother, father, stepmother, and a servant boy who is more part of the family than servant. Her father is an eccentric writer while her stepmother was a model in her past experiences.
She writes the book on the premise that it is all practice for speed writing and through these practices ends up telling an amusing story of the life in the castle and her adventures through poverty, and later, a rising income. There is also a large portion that is devoted to the pondering of what most seventeen year olds ponder about: love.
The book has a tendency to speak of somewhat serious subjects which leave you thinking, if I were Cassandra and living in that situation, how would I react? But every time Cassandra and her family reacts in a humorous way that leaves the book light and happy.
I found myself completely in love with the pets of the story. Creatures that do not have the capability of maintaining running dialogue, and yet, Smith was able to capture their characteristics. Even inanimate objects take on characteristics such as the mannequin Cassandra and her sister have in their bedroom. Whenever the two girls are pondering over something they'll ask the mannequin for advice and speak what they feel the advice should be in 'her voice'. In many ways that alone reminds me of my own childhood. I kept thinking during many of these scenes, "I can relate to this."
Cassandra, who is the narrator of the story, in my opinion, gets annoying at certain points. I would find myself disagreeing with her train of thought and wishing the story would change
course but alas the book is as stubborn as the narrator who tells it. Aside from all the humor there is one thing that Dodie Smith correctly presents: the maturing of an individual during a short period of time.
Mind you, she does all of this with a grace that can appeal to any age. My aunt would read this story to her children when they were younger and as they grew older they enjoyed reading it on their own. Even now that my Aunt is a grandmother she enjoys reading the book herself.
I feel it rare to find books that can appeal to a large group of ages but Dodie Smith accomplished this with a great amount of grace and skill. It makes me more interested in reading her other novels and seeing if all her books contain the same excitement and enjoyable structure.
I read this between fifty, eighty, and thirty degree weather over the course of five days. The book seemed to fit with any scenario, any location, and brought me to that little castle with the fog creeping up on it while two young girls lay in their bedroom speaking to a mannequin for advice. I suddenly was there listening with quick attention to what the mannequin would say in response.
I do intend to read this book again in the future and I also intend to read it to my own children.