I suppose it might be a bit of a stretch to call the ramshackle English castle in this book a house, but for Cassandra Mortmain, our seventeen-year-old narrator, the castle is her house and she loves it, hates it, mocks it, and cherishes it in that familiar, frustrating relationship so many of us have with our homes.
And anyway, the castle in I Capture the Castle isn’t quite what you’d imagine. Sure, it has high stone walls and turrets and a gatehouse and a moat. But the Mortmain family is dirt-poor and so it’s also virtually unfurnished, frigid most all year round, and crumbling to pieces. Not a particularly easy or glamorous life, perhaps, but certainly one that provides some good material.
So, hoping to practice both her speed-writing and her narrative skills, Cassandra starts a journal in which she plans to “capture” her home and family through zealous scribbling. This ends up being a bit more complicated than she’d bargained for because life tends to resist being pinned down. On the bright side, however, the more challenging it is for her, the more interesting it is for us.
I Capture the Castle is a pretty old book (it was published in 1948) and very few of us can claim an adolescence anything like Cassandra’s, but it doesn’t feel dated or distant. On the contrary, her genuine and eloquent narration lend a charged immediacy to her surroundings that’s still palpable now, more than sixty years later.