I Capture The Castle

Until I picked it up I had the faintest idea what ‘I Capture The Castle’ was about. Mine is an ancient, tattered copy that is inscribed with an illegible signature and ‘October 1950’ (a year after first publication) which I fished out of a skip, at great cost to a pair of belly-and-bum control (breathing not guaranteed) tights. One thing you can be sure of when working in sheltered housing, and that’s flats being emptied after tenants have moved on, either into nursing a home, or permanently moved on, and families will often chuck a lot of good stuff away, and it’s not stealing if it’s been thrown away (morally, not sure about that legally).

I didn’t even know Dodie Smith also wrote 101 Dalmatians, even thought I have a childhood copy I’ve read countless times.Β  It also explains why Heloise, the soppy English bull terrier in the novel, is so well written. This lovely photo is what Dodie Smith looked like, which makes me think her name really suited her.

NPG x46529,Dodie Smith,by Pearl Freeman

What I do now know is that I love this book. Cassandra is seventeen, and living with her family in a crumbling Suffolk castle, surrounded by ruins and colourful local characters. The book is her journals, and like with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ makes a person question what kind of idiot they were as a child, as in novels these young narrators are alarming insightful. The books opens with Cassandra sat on the draining board, padded with the tea cosy and the dog’s blanket for comfort, and noting that sitting in different places in the house gives one a different perspective. From that line, I knew I’d love this book, as often the reason we often fall in love with books, when they echo something we have already felt. There’s nothing like sitting on a window sill or climbing on the kitchen side to clean the top of the units to make me see the world differently. One of my happiest childhood memories is when we had scaffolding on the house, and me and my brother would sneak out at night, climb up and look in through out own windows.

The book is full of gentle humour –

Rose has hers on her chest of drawers painted to imitate marble, but looking more like bacon.

And countless observations that made me nod to myself –

It was no fun being in London in the wrong clothes.

It was a wonderful dinner with real champagne (lovely, rather like a good ginger ale without the ginger)

The call Garibaldi biscuits ‘squashed fly’ biscuits as we did when I was little, andΒ  Cassandra loves stationers shops, as do I.

I could look at stationers shops forever and ever. Rose says they are the dullest shops in the world, except, perhaps butchers’. (I don’t see how you can call butchers’ shops dull, they are too full of horror.)

The family relationships are all interesting, her author father and his library-book-reading existence in one of the towers, being unable to write any more, and the family having to live off the charity of their one staff member who gets another job to support them. Gentlefolk-style poverty, renting a cold, leaking castle, and when it comes to an unexpected egg for tea –

Oh, excellent hens! I was only expecting bread and margarine for tea, and I don’t get as used to margarine as I could wish. I thank heaven there is no cheaper form of bread than bread.

The lives of the Mortmain family perk up when some dashing new American neighbours move into the big house (happening to call just after the girls and their sweet, flamboyant stepmother have found an old pot of green dye and have dyed everything they could green, including their arms and hands), and marriage could be on the cards for big-sister Rose. I am nearly at the end, and I don’t want it to end. I like Cassandra’s world. At the end of the first section, where she is upset with events, and she has filled her first exercise book, she writes –




And I followed Cassandra’s order, and did just that (briefly.) This is a lovely book, and has been wonderful respite to my current reading pile of Tolstoy, Knausgaard and Zola. If you haven’t read it, go, now!