The week before I left Oregon, I was at a thrift store in Roseburg when I found a first edition hardcover copy of I Capture the Castle.
I Capture the Castle is one of those comforting books I feel I must always have with me. My softcover version was packed and ready to go, but I replaced it with the hardcover version, thinking vaguely that since I now had two copies, I should do a giveaway.
Then, I took to re-reading I Capture the Castle in-between returning my Paris library books and obtaining my Berlin/Millersburg library card. The more I read it, the more I find to love about it, and the more I want to talk about it on my blog. I find I’ve already mentioned the book four times since I first picked it up in 2012 (here, here, here, and here). But today I plan to dedicate an entire blog post to the subject.
The main reason this book appeals to me is because it is simultaneously larger-than-life and yet eerily real.
I Capture the Castle focuses on 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in an old house built onto the side of some castle ruins. So Cassandra can, for instance, lean out the drawing room window to feed the swans in the moat, or walk along the castle walls, descend the tower staircase, and end up in her bedroom.
Cassandra’s father is an eccentric writer who had one successful book and then quit writing. Her stepmother, Topaz, is an artist’s model who likes to do artsy things like play a lute and commune with nature, but also cooks and cleans and takes care of everyone. And her older sister Rose is at times very fun loving and playful, and at times quite melodramatic (Probably an ESFP, lol).
At the beginning of the book, the Mortmains are lamenting their boring, poverty-stricken lives. They live way out in the country and have few friends, and as Mr. Mortmain hasn’t actually published a book in ages, they have no money. It’s been years since they’ve even paid the rent on their castle home, but their landlord, who at the beginning of the novel had recently died, always just let it go.
Then one day, two handsome young men, Simon and Neil Cotton, show up at their door. It turns out that through a series of deaths in the family, Simon now owns their house.
That, I suppose, is what one would call the “inciting event” that sets the novel in motion.
But inside this fanciful, larger-than-life setup of setting and character, comes a book that feels so real mostly because of how it explores unrequited love.
I feel like the classic setup for a romantic book is to have the Mr. Darcy character in love with the Lizzie Bennett character for most of the book, so that when Lizzie finally comes to her senses and realizes that he’s the one for her, he’s just there for the taking. Meanwhile, other women who may have loved Mr. Darcy are either villainized so much we don’t care about their feelings (Miss Bingley), or so shadowy and under-developed that it doesn’t occur to us to wonder if they’re brokenhearted (Anne de Bourgh).
Maybe Cassandra Mortmain is more observant than a 17-year-old would realistically be, but I think she lived vicariously through other people’s romances. In any case, somehow I Capture the Castle captured romance and unrequited love from a variety of angles.
Here are a few more reasons why I love the book:
1. It’s funny and clever.
2. The characters are fascinating.
Especially with Rose and Topaz, Cassandra gets annoyed at their silliness and sees right through their airs, but also deeply appreciates and likes them. In this way they feel like real people.
3. I randomly love house books.
I adore any book that prominently features an interesting house. This book is especially delightful because there is just enough description, and a couple of illustrations, that make me able to visualize the entire house in my head. Every single room and tower.
4. I also randomly love books where people economize.
5. It is ultimately a happy, hopeful book, despite dealing with unrequited love.
I think I’ve rambled on about the book enough, but I’d love to have a hearty discussion with someone about the classism in it. Did any of you who’ve read the book notice how the Mortmains say they think of Stephen as a part of the family, but he didn’t get invited to the dinner party at Scoatney Hall? Or the way Cassandra is so bored, but it never occurs to her to be friends with Ivy Stebbins?
Anyway. I am giving away a paperback copy of I Capture the Castle. To enter, leave a comment on this blog post or on my Facebook post saying that you’d like to be entered.
Giveway will close at 11:59 pm EST on Thursday, November 15.
ETA: The giveaway is only open to USA addresses. I shipped to Canada once and the postage was more than the books would be new. Yikes! Sorry to international readers. Someday I’ll be a wealthy writer with $$$ for all the shipping, haha.
Another ETA: Do be aware, if you read this review and want to go watch the movie, that there is nudity in it. I don’t know what the producers were trying to prove, because it’s completely unnecessary to the plot, but whatever. That’s Hollywood for you, I guess.