It happens to everyone eventually: a friend lends you a book that they adore and want you to read, but you read the back cover and think to yourself, "this is so not my kind of book." But you kind of have to read it, and you feel pressured to like it, since your friend loves it so much. If you take a look at my list of reviews, you'll understand why I got this feeling when my friend and co-worker lent me I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (best known as the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmatians). It is billed as a character-driven coming-of-age story about young love. Folks, this is not a Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. I was dubious, but the lender is a good friend and an editor with excellent taste, to boot, so I figured I would give it a shot — and I am so glad I did. After a few chapters, I was neglecting my other books and diving into I Capture the Castle again and again.
The novel consists of the journal entries of Cassandra Mortmain, an intelligent and observant teenager who lives with her family in a crumbling castle in rural England. Her father is the renowned author of Jacob Wrestling - a novel that is widely celebrated and studied. It is, however, a one-hit wonder; he has written nothing since and the family is desperately poor. Cassandra's twenty-one-year-old sister Rose is desperate to marry well and escape from poverty. Her opportunity arrives in the form of Neil and Simon Cotton, heirs to the magnificent estate neighboring the castle who, as it turns out, have inherited the castle as well and are the Mortmain’s new landlords. Rose picks one of the brothers and makes it her goal to get him to fall in love with her. Of course, between the dashing and wealthy Cottons, Stephen, the handsome live-in son of the Mortmain's late cook, and two young women who have little to no experience with men, things are bound to get complicated.