Robert Dunbar, of The Irish Times, on a new hardback edition of Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE.
In the same piece he also writes about Natasha Farrant’s After Iris: The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby (Faber, £6.99)
calling it “a novel that moves well beyond the usual self-absorption of the teenage diarist.”
Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, first published 65 years ago, remains one of the most acute and entertaining fictional portrayals of young adulthood. It has now been reissued in an attractive hardback edition (Bodley Head, £12.99) that will provide today’s readers with the chance to meet Cassandra Mortmain, its 17-year-old narrator, and her gloriously eccentric, if impoverished, family.
It is difficult to resist a novel that begins with the sentence, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” and continues with a succession of similarly quirky observations of sibling relationships, intimacies, rivalries and the pain and pleasure of first love. “I know all about the facts of life. And I don’t think much of them,” she informs us at one point.
Smith’s decision to use a diary format as her basic narrative device creates numerous opportunities for Cassandra to exhibit her perkiness, her understanding of irony, her perceptiveness and, it must be said, her occasional naivety. The prevailing tone is light-hearted, and there are interludes of high comedy. But in capturing the day-to-day existences of the Mortmains in the disintegrating Suffolk castle that is their home, Cassanda is also capable of sensing and recording the household’s more poignant moments.
The result is a novel totally convincing in its depiction of the mood swings of adolescence, one which in spite of a few small dated details is thoroughly up to date in its transmission of the teenage voice. No one reading the book’s concluding sentences will be in any doubt about this.