October 13, 2003

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

This book is such a treat. I read it the first time 4 or 5 years ago when they first republished it after recognizing the author's name as the author of the original novel "101 Dalmatians." And then hearing that it is being made into a movie, I pulled it back off the shelf to see if it was as much fun as I remembered.

It's the story of the Mortmain family as told by the youngest daughter in her diary. The father had years before written a breakthrough book that afforded them the luxury of taking up residence in an old castle somewhere in rural England. In the years since, the mother has died and been replaced by a stepmother, Topaz, who is not at all evil although a bit eccentric and embarrassing. Father has quit writing completely and spends his days reading detective novels and doing crosswords. The family has taken in the orphaned son, Stephen, of their deceased housekeeper. And the two daughters have grown from children to young women with all the angst adolescents go thru. They are struggling along admirably with their poverty when the owner of the castle dies and leaves it to his two American raised sons. And of course, young men in the neighborhood send the two girls into a romantic tizzy.

There is another book about young women looking for husbands that starts "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife." Smith keep making references to Jane Austen throughout the book and after the first couple I started paying attention to them. And there are a lot of them. She takes elements of many of Austen's characters and recreates them in the modern world with modern circumstances.

There's the father who shuts himself up in the study. There is a Vicar and a village spinster who are important parts of the story. There are the two young men, one of whom is destined for one sister and the other who may or may not be destined for the other. There are the two sisters, one who is flighty and emotional and the other who is rational and dependable. It's not a perfect synthesis and she certainly doesn’t have the skill with words and humor that Austen has, but it makes for a very entertaining read.

Posted by Deb English at October 13, 2003 07:10 PM