52 weeks – 17 February, 2013


I Capture the Castle - coverI Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Published in 1948 and set in the early thirties, this book has a seventeen-year-old narrator with a pleasingly modern sensibility.

Cassandra Mortmain is one of the three Mortmain children who live with their father James and their stepmother, Topaz, in a remote and uncomfortable English castle leased by their father after the success of his first novel. For the past ten years he has been unable to write anything publishable, so the Mortmains sell off pieces of furniture and other valuables and live in poverty. Stephen, son of their former maid, helps out without any wages. He is in love with Cassandra.

The Cotton family, owners of the castle lease, move in to a nearby home. Cassandra and her elder sister Rose immediately become interested in the brothers, Simon and Neil.

Simon falls in love with Rose and, although she doesn’t return his feelings, she agrees to marry him to save the family fortunes. Cassandra realizes she is in love with Simon but decides to suffer secretly. At about this time, she and her brother Thomas decide on drastic action to try to shock their father into writing again.

This story of a young woman growing up is slightly poignant while being very funny. It is written in the form of Cassandra’s journal entries. This has the potential to be annoyingly cute, but fortunately it isn’t.

Cassandra is a believable creation who daydreams but who also has a practical, commonsense approach to life. Her attitude to matters sexual is typically no-nonsense:

… those five Bennets at the opening of Pride and Prejudice, simply waiting to raven the young men at Netherfield Park, are not giving one thought to the real facts of marriage. I wonder if Rose is? I must certainly try to make her before she gets involved in anything. Fortunately, I am not ignorant in such matters — no stepchild of Topaz’s could be. I know all about the facts of life. And I don’t think much of them.

The Vicar has a rather better understanding of Cassandra’s nature than any of her family:

The Cottons’ car came, with a uniformed chauffeur, and out we sailed. I was harrowed at leaving Stephen and Thomas behind, but Topaz had arranged they should have a supper with consoling sausages.

We called for the Vicar, which made it rather a squash, what with Rose’s crinoline … He is the nicest man — about fifty, plump, with curly golden hair; rather like an elderly baby — and most unholy. Father once said to him: “God knows how you came to be a clergyman.” and the Vicar said: “Well, it’s His business to know.”

After he’d had a look at us he said: “Mortmain, your women are spectacular.”

I’m not,” I said.

“Ah, but you’re the insidious type — Jane Eyre with a touch of Becky Sharp. A thoroughly dangerous girl…”

Dodie Smith was known for decades as the author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, but I Capture the Castle has always had a strong following. Now, as a result of the 2003 film by Tim Fywell, it continues to gain in popularity. It is one of those slightly below-the-radar, low-key but enduring delights.


Jeremy Fisher at the Electric OwlJeremy Fisher at the Electric Owl. A perfect concert! Jeremy Fisher comes across as an absolutely nice person: funny, easygoing, not arrogant. The Electric Owl is just the right intimate venue for him.

Of course, you can’t get a good picture with an iPhone in a darkened room with bright lights on the stage, but this blurry image captured the feel of the concert for me.

Here is a video Fisher made of Shine a Little Light:


Whispering AngelCaves D’Esclans Whispering Angel — a light, dry rosé, crisp and delicious.

Enjoyed with two old friends and one new one at Shanik, Meeru Dhalwala’s new Indian restaurant in Seattle.