Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

I Capture the Castle

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink… 

This immediately takes pride of place as my new favourite book. I absolutely adore this book. I wish I had read it when I was a teenager, I wish I had read it hundreds of times… I will read this book hundreds of times. The Mortmain family clinches it for me – I love them all. And I love the castle! And the writing! The journals! The eccentricities!

I am too excited to write about this book properly, or coherently, other than to say it is brilliant and if you haven’t read it then consider picking it up. I’d be stunned if you could be disappointed by this book. Here is a quick list of reasons why I rate this so highly:

  • Cassandra tells the story through her diary and comes up with great lines like Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.
  • It is a coming of age story, completely timeless, that takes you back to the summers of your adolescence.
  • The family lives in a crumbling old castle, complete with towers, turrets, drawing rooms and midsummer rituals.
  • A completely eccentric cast of characters, all of whom are witty and excellently drawn.
  • When their hearts break, your heart breaks.
  • It is a book about writing.
  • It’s a cross between Stella Gibbons and Enid Blyton, but with an indescribably extra quality that only Dodie Smith can provide.
  • When you’ve finished reading it, you want to tell everyone about it, and suddenly start enthusiastically declaring that you HAVE to read this.

The edition I have been reading is a really beautiful paperback Vintage collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum. (And is made from really nice quality paper, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.)

The cover is designed by Celia Birtwell. The idea behind the series is to follow an exhibition at the V&A ‘British Design 1948-2012’, they have picked seven designers to design the covers for British novels from the last seven decades. The other books in the series are:

  • Money, Martin Amis
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
  • The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
  • A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
  • Enduring Love, Ian McEwan
  • The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch

I’m continuing on a castle theme with reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle – She has a tough act to follow.

Look at Me! The Author!

A Classics Club achievement – another Wilkie Collins completed. After loving The Woman in White I moved onto The Moonstone and I now appreciate why Collins is accredited with being the father of the detective novel. It’s a little bit of a tie as to which was my favourite because there were parts of both books that I enjoyed. With The Woman in White it was the characters and the atmosphere that captivated me, but The Moonstone was completely plot driven.

The Moonstone is about an Indian diamond that goes missing after a dinner party, but it goes much further than a classic whodunit! There are some great characters, particularly the ones languishing away with unrequited love, but I didn’t get attached to them like I did with characters in The Woman in White. However, this was a really enjoyable book that kept me guessing  all the way through (I didn’t work it out).

Wilkie Collins is an author who always draws the reader’s attention to his purpose. The Dead Secret was an experiment in what happens to the reader when they are told the plot twists at the beginning of the book, before the characters are. In The Woman in White Collins wanted to ‘trace the influences of circumstance upon character’, whereas the purpose was the opposite in The Moonstone – how characters shape circumstance. I thought it was quite witty the way different narrators appeared as the ‘author’:

Here follows the substance of what I said, written out entirely for your benefit. Pay attention to it, or you will be all abroad when we get deeper into the story. Clear your mid of the children, or the dinner, or the new bonnet, or what not. Try if you can’t forget politics, horses, prices in the City, and grievances at the club. I hope you won’t take this freedom on my part amiss; it’s only a way I have of appealing to the gentle reader. Lord! Haven’t I seen you with the greatest authors in your hands, and don’t I know how ready your attention is to wander when it’s a book that asks for it, instead of a person?

I think the self-consciousness of the book makes reading it feel a bit like going to a murder mystery party: You and a group of people are dressed up and acting out parts and you have an influence over the outcome.

Even whilst writing this post I’ve been umm-ing and ah-ing about which I preferred… I think it is The Woman in White, but only just.