Thursday, May 9, 2013

Life in a Castle

So, confession time: I kind of have a thing for castles. Growing up, I was enamored with every fairy tale you could throw at me. In high school, let's just say I went to America's Hogwarts (and it was awesome). And now, my sorority house is shaped like a castle, too. So, let me just preface this all by saying I really, really love castles.

This novel was recommended for a review in the comments section of one of my very first College Fashion articles, and since I already had the book (thanks to last Spring's trip to Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR), I figured, why not? I mean, it's pretty clearly emblazoned on the cover that J.K. Rowling loves this book, so chances were that I'd love it, too. However, to tell you the truth, I wasn't entirely sure of how it was going to impress me.

And it certainly didn't help that I read the entire book within the space of four hours, confined to a stiff-backed chair in an absolutely silent Business Library, while my Big calmly did her Accounting homework in the seat next to me. That kind of self-imposed torture does affect the way you read... and it certainly helped me identify with a certain later event in the plot line involving Mr. Mortmain and the Tower (read it and you'll know what I mean!).

Alright, before I get too ahead of myself, let me just illuminate the story a little bit:

I Capture the Castle is a classic coming-of-age novel in England, set in the 1930s in between the wars, in the countryside a short distance outside of London. There lies the Castle, old and crumbling under mismanagement, within which resides the Mortmain family, living in genteel poverty, on the royalties their father collects from a best-selling novel he wrote over a decade ago. However, because of Mr. Mortmain's inability to publish anything else noteworthy, Cassandra - our seventeen year old writer-novice narrator - and her sister Rose - beautiful, ambitious, and discontented - as well as their brother Thomas, nude-model stepmother Topaz, and their resident farmhand, Stephen, are all forced to come to terms with... well, not much. Until the wealthy, handsome, American Cotton brothers come to claim their late father's estate, of course. It doesn't take long for the Bronte-and-Austen-obsessed sisters to make a plan for wooing the elder brother, Simon, and pretty soon, hilarity, embarrassment, misunderstandings, betrayals, forgiveness, family, and love are detailed across the pages of Cassandra's many journal pages.

All in all, this emotional journey of self-discovery, acceptance, and inspiration left me thinking long after Sara and I left the Library. It invoked a lot of important questions, like, what does it really mean to be beautiful? The differences between the sisters, Rose and Cassandra, were really what impressed me the most, simply because it reminded me a lot of the dynamic between me and my sister, The Cheerleader. The family depicted in the novel is wholly remarkable for their ability to stand by each other, even when everyone is doing different things and all caught up in their own individual problems, like Rose's relationship, and Mr. Mortmain's inability to write. Other members, like Thomas, factored in as a moral and objective viewpoint, while Topaz figured, for the majority as a form of comic relief... but even so, their personalities were formed by more than mere narrative tropes. Multi-faceted and perfectly flawed, the Mortmain family will probably stand as one of my literary favorites for a long time.

The fact that you could see Cassandra's narrative voice changing over time and journals, was pretty amazing, too, and a narrative form that I haven't really seen before. In terms of simply the structure of the writing, the journal format was interesting, in the way that I too have kept a journal for a long time, and I don't think that my hand would ever stand up to the workouts she impressed upon hers in writing so extensively. Still, it factored in both stream-of-consciousness and narrative stylings in a way that proved very engaging and interesting, and I really enjoyed Cassandra's voice.

And the castle in the story is pretty cool, too. :)


  1. I adore this book. I read it when I was younger and always wished it had a sequel, but looking back now I'm glad it ended how it did. I might have to search it out and reread.


  2. Stupid laptop. Started writing a comment and then somehow made it so it went back to the previous page?! Lame.

    I haven't heard of this book, but you've got me curious! I'm usually not a fan of stream of consciousness or the journal format in stories, but the family sounds interesting (Did you say nude model stepmother?!) and it's in England (which is where I'll be studying in the fall, so my ears always perk up when I know a book is set there). Might have to keep my eye out for this one!