I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith:
This book has skirted in my field of vision for the past several years: I'll see the title or hear something about it in passing and think I want to check that book out and then promptly forget all about it. Thankfully, I was reminded recently by an article titled 50 Great Books that Will Change Your Life. I do wish I had read this book as a teenager because I think I would have loved it even more than I did, because of the young age of our protagonist. But, beggars can't be choosers and I'm just happy that I discovered it at all!
17-year-old Cassandra is working diligently on her speed writing. To practice, she has decided to write about her life and her family, as things happen. Lucky for us, she has a very interesting life and a very eccentric family. They live in a centuries-old dilapidated castle, in poverty. Her beautiful older sister, Rose, is desperate to find a man and get some money. Their father, once a great author, holes himself up in the remote gatehouse, apparently reading novels all day. Topaz, their step-mother, thinks of herself as an artist's muse, but really just does the cooking and cleaning. Puppy-like admirer Stephen is shy yet hopeful that he can win Cassandra's love and admiration. Little brother Thomas seems like a studious background figure, until he proves himself to be a person with great intelligence and ingenuity. Life is pretty interesting with all these characters, but things get even better when the rich, young, handsome Cotton brothers move into the grand estate next door......
The novel is written in the 1st person narrative in a very clever way: Cassandra is practicing her speed writing (sorry to repeat that fact) and so her writing details things as they happen. Sometimes, she creates tension by purposely holding off on the story, such as "but shall I be able to write about the wicked thing I did on my birthday? Can I bring myself to describe it fully? Perhaps I can work up to it." Reading the book feels like reading a 17-year-old's diary - I really don't think the story would be quite the same if it had been written in a different style.
One thing I really loved about the book is its humor. Cassandra's insights and musings are full of character: "nobody has sent me a parcel since we quarrelled with Aunt Millicent. (The last one she sent had bed socks in it, most hideous but not to be sneezed at on winter nights. They are finishing their lives as window-wedges." Or, "....perhaps dear Mrs. Cotton will prove to be the teeniest fly in the ointment (I should like to know what fly was originally in what ointment.)". Not only is Cassandra endearing, but there are lots of funny moments in the story too - a mix up with fur coats and imprisoning the father, to name a couple.
This was a delightful story to get lost in for a few days. I must try to remember to slyly set down a copy of this book for our DDs when they get to be around Cassandra's age, leaving it somewhere that I know it will be picked up out of curiosity (on top of a box of cereal? Underneath the keys to the car?). They're going to love it.