I capture the castle seems to be one of those books that captures and holds its audience. My mother loved it, I have several friends who adore it; and it seems to be surprisingly successful at crossing age boundaries. Teenagers as much as the older woman love it.

Oddly though I seemed to miss this. I love the author, Dodie Smith. Her original novel of One hundred and one dalmatians is one of my all-time favourite reads; and Cold Comfort Farm (to which I capture is often compared) is a comic favourite of mine. I think the problem might have been that I didn't get round to reading the novel till I was in my 30's. I was a little too near my teenage years to recognise the vividness of Smith's depiction of teenage angst, and too far away to feel a wave of nostalgia or see its veracity.

Re-reading it though some years on, I loved the book. I think part of my problem earlier was that I was expecting it to be another Cold Comfort Farm. It's a much kinder, warmer read. Much as I love Cold Comfort, it does have a rather icy heart unlike I capture the castle which is gloriously funny, something that had completely passed me by when I read it as a Thirty-something, and a heart as sunny as a perfect July day.

Set in the 1930's, the impoverished Mortmain family live in a tumbledown castle in Suffolk. Father is a writer, but hasn't written for years, step-mum Topaz, a former artist's model, is eccentric, older sister Rose wants money and a husband (possibly in that order), while younger sister Cassandra narrates the tale and holds the family together.

There is a, at least superficial resemblance to Pride and Prejudice, as the novel opens with the expected arrival of the new successors to the family at the local stately home, who also happen to be the owners of the castle. Taken over by an American family, Rose and Cassandra are agog to meet Simon and Neil. Rose is determined to win Simon, not least because it will mean an end to poverty for the family; but love and life is a lot more complicated than that....

It's a wonderfully warm happy book. As the novel moves from a British winter (and the winter of the Mortmain's finances) to a perfect English summer, it's hard not to be entranced by this happy, wacky family dealing with all the oddities that life throws at them. Dodie Smith wrote the novel during the Second World War while in exile in California (her husband was a conscientious objector). This explains a lot, there is a huge yearning and nostalgia for the British way of life, and a "perfect" land in the 1930s (rather ironic when you think what was to follow); but there's also a great liking, if some bewilderment with the fast-paced life of American society.

It's a gloriously happy read, with some fabulously comic moments. Another one to add to the chicken-soup for the soul book list.


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