Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Shelved: Children’s fiction (classic, realistic fiction)
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #4
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

I Capture the Castle, published in 1949, is the tale of an eccentric poverty-stricken family living in a decrepit, crumbling yet picturesque castle: seventeen-year-old Cassandra aims to practice her writing skills since she no longer attends school by speedwriting in her notebook. Cassandra records day-to-day anecdotes about living with her older sister Rose, who is desperate to marry rich; her reclusive father, and once famous author, Mortmain, who now spends most of his time reading detective novels in the attic; and Topaz, his much younger lutenist wife. The Mortmain household is depressive, stagnant and extremely poor until two Americans arrive at the village to claim their inheritance.

I Capture the Castle is very much a character-driven novel. Cassandra reminded me a lot of one of my other favourite fictional heroines from classic literature – Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Cassandra is witty, intelligent and imaginative, and has a talent for closely watching and understanding other people. She can be quite blunt to the point of rudeness, and the diary-like narrative only serves to make it even more enjoyable: ‘Stephen is coming across the courtyard… He is eighteen now, very fair and noble-looking but his expression is just a fraction daft’ and then a few pages later ‘It was most unfair of me to say he looks a fraction daft‘.

I Capture the Castle - Original Cover

I Capture the Castle – Original Cover

Each person, for they jump out of the page too much to be called characters, in I Capture the Castle adds a little more colour to the already dazzling story, from Neil and Simon, our American visitors, to the family they bring with them. It’s easy to tell who Cassandra is talking about even without her mentioning them by name because they all have distinctive traits, and the reader gets to greet each person Cassandra meets. After all, what else is there to do in a run-down castle, but talk with other people? Speaking of which, the castle itself almost becomes a character; I came to know it quite well. I’d know which way to turn and which stairwells to avoid due to years of deterioration. I Capture the Castle does not simply tell you about 1930s English countryside, it draws you completely in.

I Capture the Castle is an insightful, veritable snapshot of the lives of at times the very ordinary, and other times very extraordinary, Mortmain family, from March to October of the same year. I loved watching each character develop throughout the story, as the seasons change, when their new neighbours alter their lives forever, and in a way that isn’t very black and white. I Capture the Castle is an underrated children’s classic, overshadowed by 101 Dalmatians, also by Dodie Smith, that needs to be read by anybody looking for something more.

If you have been convinced to read I Capture the Castle, I would suggest the beautiful Vintage Children’s Classics edition, which includes discussion questions, a quiz, and a who’s who guide at the end.

Published: 2012, originally 1949
Publisher: Vintage Children’s Classics
Pages: 592

28 thoughts on “Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

  1. […] I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith ★★★★★ • Goodreads • Buy […]

  2. I’m really glad you enjoyed this – it’s a really long time since I’ve read it but I remember it fondly. Have you seen the movie? It doesn’t quite capture the charm of the book but it does feature a young (though still VERY handsome) Henry Cavill!

    • I haven’t! Would you recommend it?

      • It doesn’t quite get the tone right but its not a bad adaptation. It has an amazing cast (Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Bill Nighy) and has a really lovely aesthetic. It makes for a good lazy Sunday afternoon!

      • I watched the film straight after reading it which may have been a bit of a mistake because I noticed every subtle difference from the book.
        It is a very good watch though, and many lines do come straight from the original text. Romola Garai is wonderful (as ever) and it really captures the ‘look’ of the novel, if not the ‘feeling’ the whole way through.

  3. Ohhh this book sounds like it’s a setting out of a Tim Burton movie. The castle reminded me of the Edward Scissorhands’ castle from the movie. I liked that you compared Cassandra to Anne. You’ve definitely convinced me to pick up this book :). Great review Stacey!

    • I’d say some of the characters are quite eccentric and exaggerated, but other than that it’s very ‘realistic’! I think you’d really enjoy it.

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I should start reading classics more often!

  5. I only read this very recently as well and I was blown away by how vivid the characters were – totally agree with you that it seems more fitting to call them people! Can’t believe I didn’t read it sooner, great review

  6. This is one of my favorite books, and has probably the best opening sentence ever written :-). So glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Great review, Stacey! I loved this book, so much in it with there really being much of a plot. You don’t really notice until you look back at it just how simple the story is, but it’s genius.

  8. I loved this book too. You’ve reminded me it’s time for a reread!

  9. This is my all-time favourite book so I’m really glad that you liked it. I’m very tempted to buy that edition as well it’s beautiful and it really captures the story.

  10. Love this book :) Reread it recently for a bookclub, it’s a great one to return to. Cassandra is a great lead, and I loved the format of the book, the way it was split into notebooks. Great opening and closing sentences too :)

  11. I loved ‘I Capture the Castle’ and your review was amazing too. I especially like how you call the characters “people”; it’s so true!
    I’ve reviewed it here:

  12. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed I Capture The Castle. I thoroughly enjoyed the book myself when I read it a year or so ago now and plan to reread it in the summer (along with 9 other favourite books of mine from my shelves).
    I found your review to be very true to word of the book.

    My Book Bubble

  13. I loved your review and so, I decided to buy it.

  14. […] I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith I was incredibly excited about reading I Capture the Castle, originally published in 1949, after purchasing my beautiful Vintage Children’s Classics edition and it didn’t disappoint. It’s very much a character-driven novel and the Mortmain characters are among the most eccentric you’ll read about. I said in my review that ‘each person, for they jump out of the page too much to be called characters, in I Capture the Castle adds a little more colour to the already dazzling story’. […]

  15. […] took I Capture the Castle with me to Sri Lanka to while away the hours when it became too dark to spend time outdoors and […]

  16. […] Makes It A Classic It is written by I Capture the Castle author Dodie Smith, a much-loved children’s classic and […]

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