Cassandra Mortmain wants to be a writer. She lives with her family in a castle, but they’re not rich. In fact, they’re desperately poor. Her father’s first novel, while critically acclaimed and taught at the most prestigious universities, was never followed by a second, and Cassandra is sure he doesn’t write any longer. Her beautiful sister Rose has no rich men around her to tempt into marriage. Her stepmother, Topaz, is loved by all of them, but is incredibly eccentric and rarely goes to London to be painted (her main way of earning money). As a writing exercise, Cassandra decides to write about her life in little journals, never suspecting that so soon after she begins, two men from America are to become their landlords and change their lives forever.
I’ve wanted to read this book for so long, since high school at least. I’m so glad I finally got the chance to read it, because it’s truly a charming book. Cassandra stands right out from the beginning as a fantastic narrator, drawing us in to her family’s life. Their poverty is distressing and does make the beginning of the book hard. The family is earning virtually negative money. Their servant of sorts, Stephen, who has never been paid wages, is the only employable person of all of them and thus takes a second job to support the people who are meant to be his employers. They eat mostly bread and tea, and can’t even afford real butter. I have to admit that I was worried the whole book was going to be like this, but it isn’t.
When Neil and Simon arrive, it becomes a coming-of-age story for Cassandra, who is only just growing up. It’s her slow awakening to adulthood – womanhood – that makes this book so poignant. While we’re not all poor, and we don’t all live in a castle (I doubt anyone reading this lives in a castle, although I wish I did), it is impossible for any woman to forget what it was to be a girl, when life was enchanting and new and simple. Cassandra emerges from the page as a person I’d have loved to be friends with. There is a point where games end and where adulthood begins, and Cassandra hits it here. Her narrative is sweet and honest and I’m so glad I read it. The ending wasn’t what I wanted, but I didn’t see anywhere else for it to go, not while remaining true to the characters.
I Capture the Castle is a book I know I will return to again and again in the future, and what higher recommendation can I give it than that?
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