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I Capture the Castle
By Dodie Smith
Read by Emilia Fox

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I Capture the Castle

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I Capture the Castle
By Dodie Smith
Read by Emilia Fox
The Audio Partners Publishing Corp., (2001)
An abridged Audio Recording on 4 Cassettes
ISBN: 1-57270-224-9
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 19, 2002

The playwright Dorothy Gladys (Dodie) Smith is perhaps best known as the beloved author of 101 Dalmatians. However her novel, I Capture the Castle gained critical acclaim both as a masterful work of modern literature, and for the moving story that it tells. I Capture the Castle revolves around the seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain who lives in the decrepit remains of an English Castle. The story is told by Cassandra through her journal entries, to which she tells her hopes and dreams, and the day to day events in her life - including her first love and intimate tidbits about her family.

This is partly a coming-of-age tale, but it is also a tale about a quirky family and the perils, and comedy, that can arise when a diverse group of characters all live under one roof. Cassandra's family is a member of the genteel poor, proud but short of ready cash. Her family consists of her father, a writer who has a terminal case of writer's block, her stepmother Topaz who is an artist's model, and siblings, 20-year-old Rose and 15-year-old Thomas. Also living with the family is eighteen-year-old Stephen Colly, the orphaned son of their former maid. Also part of this mix are the American brothers Simon and Neal Cotton, who own the estate the family lives on.

The poverty that the family lives in is self made. The father was once a famous writer who made a small fortune on the laurels of his book Jacob Wrestling. But events, and a short stint in jail, resulted in his inability to write. Nonetheless he still styles himself as a writer and therefore is loath to seek other employment in order to feed the family. Topaz could return to her work as an artist's model, but simply prefers not to. Rose, who is a true beauty, is desperate to escape from the yoke of poverty and will do anything necessary to do so. Unlike Rose, Cassandra takes a much more pragmatic approach to life, and is much more mature than her years.

I Capture the Castle is set in the early 1930's and it not only gives us a glimpse of Cassandra's life, but also of the society of the time, and the class differences that still existed in England before the Second World War - and how these differences affected Cassandra's life and prospects. Although this audio edition is an abridgement of the original book, it does an excellent job of maintaining the integrity, and continuity, of the story. This audio edition of I Capture the Castle is read by Emilia Fox. She has a quiet, yet vibrant English accent that captures the essence of Cassandra. This is an excellent book. Smith's imagery is rich, and Cassandra is an engaging character. Be forewarned, however, that this story will leave you eager to learn more about Cassandra - but Smith never wrote a sequel to I Capture the Castle. Consequently, some of the situations that would have been resolved in a sequel are never resolved. In many ways this non-ending is reminiscent of having a friend moving away, and then losing touch with you, leaving you to ponder what became of them.

I Capture the Castle was originally published in 1948, and it will captivate readers, both young and old alike. It is a story that can be reread or listen to over and over again. And, with each reading you will find that you discover new nuances of the story that you missed the first time around. Truly a remarkable work in the same class with Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, and other first person narratives that have captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of readers.

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