‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith

Previously successful novelist Mortmain suffers from seemingly incurable writer’s block whilst his family battle impending bankruptcy in their secluded country home (the eponymous castle). Mortmain himself is largely absent throughout the novel, having holed himself up in his quarters with an apparent disregard for his family’s economic situation. Meanwhile, his wife Topaz and daughters Rose and Cassandra seek methods of relieving their collective financial difficulties. Our narrator is Cassandra, who records the family’s goings-on in her diary (practice for writing a novel like her father). When wealthy American brothers Neil and Stephen move in nearby, hope of a solution begins to glimmer…

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’. WHAT an opener. For me, I Capture the Castle is a true classic. It’s a bildungsroman – a coming-of-age novel that tracks its protagonist’s progression into adulthood: we follow Cassandra as she learns about love, lust, and life in the big wide world. The novel beautifully captures that heady mixture of anticipation and dread we associate with our late teens. But it is also, I think, a kunstlerroman; that is, a novel which tracks the progress of a developing artist. Ideas around artistic creation, as well as spirituality and the relationship between life and art, are key themes, and though it is only very gently hinted, I feel certain that by the close of I Capture the Castle, Cassandra is all set to begin writing her own novel. If you only read one of Dodie Smith’s novels, make it this one (although I’d recommend you read more than one!). You won’t regret it.

Dodie Smith

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