I Capture the Castle

This is one of those books I’ve always meant to read.

Working in a children’s bookshop once upon a time, it was a go-to favourite for many of my colleagues.

In the world of British kids lit it’s legendary, and I believe it is the sort of coming-of-age novel that’s as valuable and valid at 50 as it is at 15. It’s classic in the very best of senses.

The story is simple enough: the diary of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, including her reflections on family, commitment and her first splash of romance.

There is a love triangle and sibling rivalry and all sorts of things that will sound pallid if I list them, but here it works as a backdrop for some tumultuous glory. As Oprah’s website opines…

one of those overlooked gems that manages to touch on everything that is exquisitely painful about falling in love with someone who’s not in love with you and yet make it sound so delightful that you want to do it all over again.

(I heard she wanted to have it in her Book Club, but it failed the “only living writers” rule)

Cassandra is an unforgettable creation, stitched together out of many loves and many contradictions. At one point, she is referred to as “Jane Eyre with a touch of Becky Sharp”. It suits her and her tumbling narrative – as I imagine it suits many of the of teenage girls who have fallen in love with her in the subsequent sixty years.

Her eccentric father and haphazard home are delightfully mad, and her swaying struggle between precocious and world-weary are both laughable and utterly human.

Though many will disagree,  I feel a hazy echo of Cassandra’s voice in Atonement, though I daresay Dodie Smith, famed creator of 101 Dalmatians, wouldn’t have been caught dead writing that word or that plot back in 1949. That’s pure McEwan.

This is nothing so epic. Just a bittersweet Midsummer, complete with the pangs of young love and the tingling bite of ginger beer.

I Capture the Castle is, among other things,  a rose-tinted remembrance of life in Britain between the wars. It’s full of deliciously draughty towers and quiet village pubs. The writer was living in America at the time and you can almost taste her yearning for cheese on toast and copper kettles.

It’s a charming read. And like any classic, one I look forward to revisiting again soon.

Incidentally, the film version is a veritable whos-who-in-hindsight.

Newcomer Romola Garai and Bill Nighy are amply supported by Rose Byrne and Tara Fitzgerald, with the dashing American brothers played by Marc Blucas (you know, from Buffy) and Henry Thomas (tragic pretty-boy du jour in the early Noughties, better known as the kid from E.T.).

The then-unknown Henry Cavill as the smouldering boy-next-door (all good, girly YA novels have one of those, don’t they?)

One Response to “I Capture the Castle”
  1. Lea Jurock says:

    I loved this book. 🙂


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