I Capture The Castle (1949) by Dodie Smith

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My love affair with this book goes back nearly twenty years and I’ve long since lost sight of precisely what it is that binds me to it. If you were to press me on the subject I’d probably say something vague and noncommittal about how much I love Cassandra’s narration and her witty portraits of her mad family. I might also mumble something about the fact that their dilapidated Suffolk castle provided a romantic fictional escape from my own teenage home on a dismal fenland council estate. In truth, however, I really have no idea why I have loved this book for so long. I just know that I have and that it makes it really hard to write an objective review now that I’ve just reread it. I suspect anything I write will sound either a bit too gushy or (worse?) just a bit stale. Instead, in lieu of my usual review style post, here are some of my favourite quotes from I Capture the Castle… 

The opening scene contains some of my favourite descriptions but I particularly love this exchange between Cassandra, her desperate sister Rose and stepmother Topaz at the height of their genteel poverty:

“…It may interest you both to know that for some time now I’ve been considering selling myself. If necessary, I shall go on the streets.” 

I told her she couldn’t go on the streets in the depths of Suffolk. 

“But if Topaz will kindly lend me the fare to London and give me a few hints-” 

Topaz said she had never been on the streets and rather regretted it, ‘because one must sink to the depths in order to rise to the heights,’ which is the kind of Topazism it requires much affection to tolerate. 

It makes me think of this later comment:

“Topaz was wonderfully patient – but sometimes I wonder if it is not only patience but also a faint resemblance to cows…” 

God bless Topaz.

Two profound truths that I couldn’t agree with more:

“I shouldn’t think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.” 

“Rose doesn’t like the flat country but I always did – flat country seems to give the sky such a chance.” 

I’m not lying when I say that I think of this passage almost every time I enter the eerie silence of a really old church:

I could hear rain still pouring from the gutters and a thin branch scraping against one of the windows; but the church seemed completely cut off from the restless day outside  – just as I felt cut off from the church. I thought: I am a restlessness inside a stillness inside a restlessness. 

That might be my favourite one of all I also love the slow evolution from this:

“I know all about the facts of life and I don’t think much of them.” 

To this:

“No bathroom on earth will make up for marrying a bearded man you hate.”

To this:

“Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Forgive the departure from my normal style – this just seemed the easiest way to approach this particular topic but my usual posts will resume very soon. I just read Tove Jannson’s Summer Book and adored it so there’ll be more in a day or two…

 

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky

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There are two things that attracted me to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Firstly, it’s become something of a cult classic recently and that just makes me curious to know what all the fuss is about. In 1999, when this was published, I turned 16 and was just starting to turn away from the Young Adult novels that had dominated my reading for the past few years so I didn’t read this book then. Instead I was spending my time scratching Jared Leto’s name into my pencil tin with a compass, writing angstily (with lots of exclamation marks!!!) in my diary and hiding behind the school bike sheds to avoid the monthly cross country run. In some ways it’s nice to know that those days are well and truly behind me but occasionally, just occasionally, it’s nice to revisit them and reminisce. The Perks of Being a Wallflower stood out as one of those books that might be a pathway into all that teenage nostalgia. Secondly, it’s an epistolary novel and god knows I love a novel written in letter format. They’re just so personal and chatty.

The letters in this case are written by troubled teenager Charlie who needs a stranger to talk to while he works through some of the big changes that are happening in his life. There’s a new school, new friends and the absence of old ones, bullies and parties, homework and so on and it’s all quite overwhelming. Charlie’s letters are readable and funny. To me he sounded a bit younger than his years but I can see why Chbosky did this; it’s Charlie’s naivety, I think, that draws people around him but itd also what makes him vulnerable. His problems are manifold but Chbosky treats them all sensitively and never once tries to suggest that Charlie might just grow out of all this one day. On the flip side, however, I did wonder whether there was just too much going on here: abortion, abuse, rape, homosexuality, domestic violence, drug taking, suicide, depression… I wasn’t a bit surprised Charlie found it overwhelming. Give the guy a break, Chbosky. The difficulty, of course, with a novel that tries to cram in so many big issues is that you just don’t get to address them with any depth. They lose their impact and you start to wonder whether this is all a bit manipulative, a cynical attempt at getting you to engage with the novel by forcing you to feel something.  It’s a shame really.

All in all, I had mixed feelings about this book. I love the fact that Chbosky treats some serious issues with real care and feeling and I really loved Charlie. But I wonder if I’d have liked it more if I’d read it back in 1999; reading it now it just fell a bit flat.

Apologies for the very brief review. I’m waaaaay behind at the mo and it’s already three weeks since I finished this one. I need to get back into the habit of blogging about books soon after I’ve read them. I’ll do better next time!

Top Ten Tuesday: Most read authors

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke And The Bookish. This week’s theme is all about the authors I’ve read most.

I had a wee break from TTT because I found the last two topics a little tricky, a bit too niche for my reading/blogging habits. This week’s theme is more general so you’d think it’d be easier, wouldn’t you? My trouble is that although I like to think I’ve read books by a wide variety of authors, I don’t tend to read more than two or three books by any one of them. In reading terms I like to get around a bit. I’m a commitment-phobe.

1 Enid Blyton. Famous Five, Mallory Towers, Noddy…. I read them all. But not Secret Seven. Eurgh. I hated Secret Seven. Favourite: The Hollow Tree House.

2 Charles Dickens. I don’t want to sound like a stuck record but Dickens is one of the only authors I go back to again and again. I’ve read eight of his novels and some short stories too. Favourite: Probably Our Mutual Friend.

3 J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter was one of those very rare occasions when I read an entire series all the way through from beginning to end. It may only have been possible because I spread it out over fifteen years but still, quite an achievement in my eyes. Favourite: Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

4 Agatha Christie. When I’m feeling lazy, or I really just don’t know what to read, I turn to Christie. I’ve read so many over the years that the titles, plots and characters are starting to blur a little. Favourite: Murder On The Orient Express.

5 Roald Dahl. No surprises here. I had the complete set. I read them all. Repeatedly. Favourite: Either The Enormous Crocodile or The Fantastic Mr Fox…… or maybe Matilda.

6 Margaret Atwood. My old roommate was responsible for getting me completely hooked on Margaret Atwood. I never finished the Oryx and Crake series so one day I’ll go back and do that…. I hope. Favourite: The Blind Assassin.

7 Jacqueline Wilson. I read tons of these as a child and then read a load more when I was trying to finish the BBC Big Read. They were great. Favourite: Double Act.

8 Winston Graham. I discovered the Poldark books while I was staying at my grandparents’ house in Sussex one summer when I was about 12. Over three successive summers I read them all. Favourite: Ross Poldark.

9 Judy Blume. She understood teenagers. ‘nuff said. Favourite: Superfudge at first, Deenie when I was a bit older.

10 Graham Greene. I’m scraping the barrel with this one since I’ve only read four GG books, but that’s still more than I have most other authors. I got a bit obsessed with Graham Greene for a while. Favourite: Brighton Rock.