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I Capture Castle [Paperback]

Dodie Smith
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (182 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1 2003 VMC (Book 217)
I write this sitting at the kitchen sink' is the first line of a novel about love, sibling rivalry and a bohemian existence in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Cassandra Mortmin's journal records her fadingly glamorous stepmother, her beautiful, wistful older sister and the man to whom they owe both their isolation and poverty - Father. The author of one experimental novel, and a minor cause celebre, he has since suffered from writer's block and is determined to drag his family down with him. But if the iron has entered Father's soul it hasn't penetrated Cassandra's ...

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Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain wants to become a writer. Trouble is, she's the daughter of a once-famous author with a severe case of writer's block. Her family--beautiful sister Rose, brooding father James, ethereal stepmother Topaz--is barely scraping by in a crumbling English castle they leased when times were good. Now there's very little furniture, hardly any food, and just a few pages of notebook paper left to write on. Bravely making the best of things, Cassandra gets hold of a journal and begins her literary apprenticeship by refusing to face the facts. She writes, "I have just remarked to Rose that our situation is really rather romantic, two girls in this strange and lonely house. She replied that she saw nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud."

Rose longs for suitors and new tea dresses while Cassandra scorns romance: "I know all about the facts of life. And I don't think much of them." But romantic isolation comes to an end both for the family and for Cassandra's heart when the wealthy, adventurous Cotton family takes over the nearby estate. Cassandra is a witty, pensive, observant heroine, just the right voice for chronicling the perilous cusp of adulthood. Some people have compared I Capture the Castle to the novels of Jane Austen, and it's just as well-plotted and witty. But the Mortmains are more bohemian--as much like the Addams Family as like any of Austen's characters. Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmations, wrote this novel in 1948. And though the story is set in the 1930s, it still feels fresh, and well deserves its reputation as a modern classic. --Maria Dolan --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I've ever met J.K. Rowling A delicious, compulsively readable novel about young love and its vicissitudes. What fun! Erica Jong Much more fun than the reader has any right to expect THE WEEKLY STANDARD Dreamy and funny...an odd, shimmering timelessness clings to its pages. A thousand and one cheers for its reissue. A + ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Capture this book! June 26 2004
By Kat
I came across this book accidentally. My co-worker had it on the library reference desk. She said it was the next book in her book discussion group. After she told me a little about it I decided to read it. Then, I had second thoughts. So, I read reviews of it on Amazon. I still wasn't sure if I wanted to read it when I read that people said it was like Jane Austen would write if she was around today. Even though I'm a former English major and a librarian, I will commit the great heresy and admit I don't like Jane Austen. She's too hoity-toity for me. But, then, in a review I read the opening couple of sentences: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy." This is such a great and intriguing opening that I had to know what was going on. I'm glad I decided to read it. It is a delightful novel, especially describing the poverty the Mortmains experience living in the castle. (You don't associate living in a castle with poverty! That, right there, makes the book different.) I have to admit, it does rather read like a modern Jane Austen and yet I didn't mind all the talk about who loved whom and who was going to marry whom. I also enjoyed sharing the challenge of getting James Mortmain to go back to his writing. It's a very good read with interesting characters, including the castle itself. And, if you like romances, you will really like this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Will capture your heart June 7 2004
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, an aspiring author, is keeping a journal in which she chronicles her life in a ramshackle old English castle. Life is not easy for the Mortmains. Most of the family's possessions and furnishings have been sold off, they do without electricity, and there is barely enough to eat. In spite of all this, the family keeps a cheerful outlook and manages to get by, thanks in part to the generosity of the wealthy American Cotton family who has inherited the estate upon which the castle sits and who have taken the Mortmains under their wing.
The Mortmains are an offbeat family. Cassandra has flights of fancy and unusual schemes that often have unexpected results. Father, an eccentric and innovative writer, is suffering from severe writer's block and can no longer support the family. He spends his time holed up in the gatehouse reading novels. Stepmother Topaz is a flighty artist's model who enjoys roaming the estate in the buff. Cassandra's older sister Rose is tired of living hand-to-mouth, and she decides to find a way to marry the landlord's wealthy grandson. Handsome Stephen, a hired hand who stays on with the family even though the Mortmains cannot afford to pay him, has difficulty hiding his unrequited love for Cassandra.
First published in 1948 and set in the 1930s, the story has an old-fashioned feel to it, especially on the subject of courtship and marriage. It also highlights the cultural differences at that time between the Americans and the British. Possessing a wisdom and maturity beyond her years, Cassandra spends much time analyzing the people and events that surround her and then recording her observations. "Contemplation," she says, "seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Lovely Narrator May 27 2004
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE was recommended to me by an acquaintance when it became available a few years ago, in print after a long absence in the United States. It has become one of my favorite books not for it's depth or subject matter but for the shimmering state of existence it captures- that of a precocious girl becoming an intelligent young woman. Don't let the recent film adaptation prevent you from reading the book because its charm lies in the first person narration (something never captured in film) of Cassandra Mortmain. She chronicles her family's life in an old castle where her beautiful elder sister Rose chafes at her isolation and poverty, her father, the once promising author, continues to suffer from writer's block, his artist's model second wife, Topaz, makes the best of it, and the solid Stephen helps the family without pay. Their world is inevitably changed by the arrival of new American landlords and eligible bachelor brothers Simon and Neil Cotton.
However what could become a trite romance or standard coming of age story is carefully avoided by the thoughtful honesty of its narrator tempered by the comedy of the situations and by a hint of the sadness that accompanies all change. I confess I have purchased eight copies of the book and given them to friends because of the transitory feeling it so accurately grasps. Set in the 1930's, the narration still feels fresh even if the social codes have changed. This is unlike Dodie Smith's famous work, 101 Dalmatians, though, it is perhaps more like her plays, indeed, she even wrote a stage version of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. It is an imminently readable and enchanting book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good romance, rich with mood and character April 8 2004
This is a gently whimsical and vaguely gothic story told from the perspective of young Cassandra Mortmain, living with her eccentric, genteely impoverished family in an old English castle. Writing in her beloved journal, Cassandra, an aspiring writer, creates a clear picture of her castle home and her brilliantly bizarre family; genius novelist father James with a case of intense writer's block, sweet, bohemian stepmother Topaz, elder sister Rose and servant boy Stephen.
The novel picks up pace when the wealthy Cotton brothers move from America to their English estate, very close to Cassandra's castle. This sets life into hectic motion for all the family, particularly Cassandra and Rose. As Cassandra chronicles the goings on, she gradually, gracefully grows up. Ultimately, this is a story about the joy and pain of love, particularly when that love is unrequited.
While there are moments when characters behave, well, randomly (why in the world DOES Simon kiss Cassandra?), the book has a quirky, lovable charm and beauty. Cassandra's voice is fresh and unaffected, and the characters and surroundings are finely sketched. A good read for anyone, particularly imaginative teenagers.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I Capture the Castle book
When I was about 16 or so I found this book on my mother's bookshelves. I loved the book and have re-read it over the years. Read more
Published 10 months ago by J. Myers
3.0 out of 5 stars Dated in some respects, delightful in others.
I enjoyed the writing style, but could have done without some of the descriptions and the repetition. Still, a charming story and a fun read. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Darlene Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars And She Captured My Heart
I Capture the Castle was a delight for almost the entire novel. Cassandra, a strong, resilient, and talented girl in her late teens, narrates the book through diary entries. Read more
Published on Aug. 6 2012 by ahef1963
2.0 out of 5 stars an (rather unsuccessful) attempt at a Jane Austen /Flavia de Luce...
Not particularly impressed by this book. Picked it up because J.K. Rowling recommended it... As implied by my review, it seems like a Jane Austen novel set in the 1930s, narrated... Read more
Published on April 20 2011 by Book E. Worm
3.0 out of 5 stars Began as a sheer joy but didn't keep its ease
I was a little confused when I began reading the book because it seemed at once aimed at teenagers but written with adult sensibilities. Read more
Published on June 18 2010 by Samantha
5.0 out of 5 stars I Capture the Castle
What a joy! This is my favourite book of all time. Beautifuly written!.
Published on Nov. 10 2007 by N. R.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
After reading the latest reviews on Amazon I felt obliged to write my own review.
This is a wonderful book. It reads very easily and the story is a joy to follow. Read more
Published on July 17 2005 by Allyson
2.0 out of 5 stars no, thanks
okay, personally, i really didn't like this novel. Sorry Dodie, but i just coldn't get past the first 7 chapters...it got really boring. Read more
Published on July 1 2005 by Hannah
4.0 out of 5 stars great!
this book was really good i just finished it. i loved the characters although i wished the ending was a little different. i recomend it to anyone who loves the british!
Published on May 27 2004 by nabilah
3.0 out of 5 stars Over-Rated
This book seemed "shallow" and "wandered" a great bit.
Published on May 16 2004 by snowblaze
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