Tuesday, 12 January 2010

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Come Christmas time, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even, what I wanted was something to read that was easy on the senses. The ground was covered with a blanket of snow. I fancied cuddling up under my own little eider and snuggling down with a gentle read.

Last year there was a list of the country’s favourite books published in the newspaper. The great and the good listed theirs. It’s always satisfying to have your own taste reinforced and quite forgivable to feel just an eensy bit smug that you have read many of the classics chosen. But it’s also thoroughly shocking to find that there are just as many gaping holes in your reading.

Now I’m not about to confess to all those titles I did not recognize, had not read or have not been able to conquer. It is a list that could be embarrassing. But I will admit to feeling a bit stupid that I had not read a novel so many cited as their favourite. How come I never read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith? It was one of the books that all age groups enthused about as their absolutely favourite read.

The books we’ve read lately in the Book Group have featured a little heavily on death and destruction. Either that or Islamic angst. We’re all feeling a bit war weary and have decided we should choose a few titles that are a little lighter, a bit more uplifting. So I suggested to a few groupies at our Christmas bash that perhaps I would do I Capture the Castle.

One thought it a great idea (she hasn’t read it either - I felt better - she’s a brain) another dismissed it as a children’s book. A third was lukewarm and wondered if there would be enough to discuss. Perhaps my idea was a non-starter, I’d choose a classic instead. As usual.

Then came the snow. I trawled through my bookshelves and there was a copy - pristine, unopened, brand new – of Dodie Smith’s classic. That’s what the list called it, a modern classic. Somebody (it must have been last Christmas) had obviously thought I should like it. It might not be Book Group material but only a few pages read on the hoof convinced me that it was just what I needed to go to bed with (so undemanding, a book).

I won’t bother to give you the story. There must be hundreds of reviews of it or possibly you have all read it (all except me!). It is an impossible and implausible story anyway. But so what. I don’t think Dodie expected her readers to believe it. The protagonist, Cassandra, is so charming she is a pleasure to get to know as she gets to know herself. And mature: seventeen going on thirty-seven.

Most of the other characters are less believable. Some totally unbelievable. But I can see why optimistic young (and not so young) girls like it – everything about it is so sweetly romantic from the unrequited love to the Bohemian family who live in the sublime ruined castle.

And it is a very easy read. Now, this is not a criticism. Quite the contrary. It is very difficult to tell a tale simply but well. The prose is good – written in 1948, says it all – and without great dramatic effects the reader still wants to carry on reading. Now that is a skill. Finally, there is humour, just a little pathos and the ending is not as corny as one expects.

In short, I enjoyed it. It was like having a soothing massage. Pleasing, light and totally undemanding. Well enough written not to injure the senses of the literary snob, but not so soppy as to make any but the most cynical groan. I couldn’t begin to call it my favourite novel – I like a little more depth and challenge and preferably a bit of drama in my choice of reading material.

But it’s the perfect holiday paperback or thing to read after one has been ill. So when the snow outside demands you stay inside, tuck up warm and chill out with a cocoa, then throw into the mix a copy of I Capture the Castle. You may not be excited, but you won't be sorry.


PS Finishing this I googled I Capture the Castle and yes, there are hundreds of reviews. So I was the only person never to have read it!! If you want to find out about the plot just read them.

1 comment:

Josette said...

Hi Lucy, I enjoyed reading your review of I Capture the Castle! I just finished it and found it a pleasing read. It was narrated so well!

Do check out my review of it. Thanks! :)