Set in the 1930s, I Capture the Castle is the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who lives in a crumbling English castle with her quirky family. Cassandra is an aspiring writer. The story is told in the form of her journal in which she introduces us to her father, the eccentric author of a groundbreaking debut novel who now suffers from chronic writer's block, and her stepmother, Topaz, a renowned artist's model who loves communing with nature au naturel. Older sister, Rose, weary of poverty and isolation, longs to be a character in a Jane Austen novel. Younger brother Thomas (who is, like Cassandra, thought to be "tolerably bright"), Stephen, the son of the Mortmains' late housekeeper, who plagiarizes poetry in an effort to win Cassandra's love, and a dog and a cat known as Heloise and Abelard, round out the family.
|clip art from art-oblivion.ru|
Here's a conversation in which Simon offers his opinion on who the Mortmain girls would be if they were paintings:
"Rose is a Romney," said Simon. "She's quite a bit like Lady Hamilton.... And Cassandra's a Reynolds, of course--the little girl with the mousetrap."
"I'm not!" I said indignantly. "I hate that picture. The mouse is terrified , the cat's hungry and the girl's a cruel little beast. I refuse to be her."
"Ah, but you'd let the mouse out of the trap and find a nice dead sardine for the cat," said Simon. I began to like him a little better.
|Girl With a Mousetrap, Joshua Reynolds|
On writing habits:
I am writing this in the attic .... I don't intend to let myself become the kind of author who can only work in seclusion--after all, Jane Austen wrote in the sitting-room and merely covered up her work when a visitor called (though I bet she thought a thing or two)--but I am not quite Jane Austen yet, and there are limits to what I can stand.
I set a lot of store by may--I once spent hours trying to describe a single blossom of it, but I only managed "Frank-eyed floweret, kitten-whiskered," which sticks in your throat like fish-bones.
I could easily go on writing all night but I can't really see and it's extravagant on paper, so I shall merely think. Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.
I Capture the Castle isn't a children's book, but it reminds me of my favorite sort of middle grade novel. It's exuberant, character-driven, and brimming with voice.
A film adaptation came out in 2003. I haven't seen it yet, but it's on my list of movies to watch.
For another opinion, check out this fantastic review by The Dreamstress.