It had seemed to me that everyone always knew how wonderful I Capture the Castle is, but I only discovered the fact for myself about 6 years ago when I read it for the first time. This year one of the World Book Night titles is I Capture the Castle – and so having signed up for the second year I opted to give away this book. In preparation for giving away copies of the book on Monday night – I decided to re-read it. It is always much easier to talk about a book to people when one has only just finished reading it.
The story is narrated by the wonderfully engaging Cassandra – who as the novel opens is sitting on the draining board her feet in the kitchen sink writing in her journal. Cassandra wants to be a writer – she uses her journal to hone her craft and in the course of the novel fills three notebooks – she has taught herself a way of speed writing which she hopes will be unintelligible to others. In this way she records the ups and downs of her life in the broken down old castle in which her impoverished family live. Living alongside her are her father, who once wrote an ingenious book but hasn’t written anything since, her stepmother Topaz, her beautiful sister Rose, brother Thomas and Stephen who is a sort of friend and un paid employee – who adores Cassandra. The Castle is merely leased to the Montmains, although they haven’t paid any rent to the Cotton family for ages. When the two young American Cottons arrive at their nearby ancestral home Scoatney, it creates great excitement for their tenants. Rose, who hates poverty more than any of them, is immediately determined to marry the eldest Simon, and Cassandra and Topaz aid her in her ambition.
Cassandra is a breath of fresh air – her imagining’s and fledgling steps along life’s rocky road are beautifully observed. Through Cassandra’s eyes we see the often funny consequences of the family’s poverty – Cassandra and Rose’s journey to London, and especially their return – having picked up some ancient furs that belonged to a deceased aunt – is especially hilarious. The Cotton family start to draw the Montmain family into their circle and it soon begins to look like Rose really will marry Simon. Cassandra however is thrown into wild confusion over her own feelings both toward Simon – and toward poor young Stephen. Her writing helps her to understand what is happening, and the reader watches as Cassandra grows up – and develops a greater understanding of the people around her. Although there are some wonderfully funny moments there is also plenty that are really poignant. This is a truly delightful read, warm, rewarding and gorgeously cosy.
I couldn’t help but be sad however that this reading experience is not as precious as the first time. One can’t ever repeat that first reading of a book – however many times it is read and however much it is enjoyed – that first reading of a book is always the best and the one I envy people who have not yet read it. I can only hope that the people to whom I give a copy on Monday evening love it as much as I do.