It's been a while since I did one of these, but long ago I decided to start a NEW THING: Literary Public Service Announcements. Essentially, I'm going to pimp a book that I read before I started blogging, but that I want to foist upon the world due to it's high levels of sheer awesomeness, for the good of the public and all that jazz. Instead of me just telling people over and over that they should read something "JUST BECAUSE!!!1!", I've decided to actually explain in a more eloquent fashion just why my favorite books are my favorites.
Last time on Literary Public Service Announcements: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty.
And now this week's PSA:
'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink'. Cassandra Mortmain, seventeen years old and poised 'between childhood and adultery', is already a deadly observer of human behaviour. She lives with her family in the remnants of a moated medieval castle. Money is so short that her beautiful older sister declares she would marry the devil himself to get it; their father, an experimental novelist once briefly imprisoned for attacking his first wife with a cakeknife, now suffers from writers' block and sulks in the gatehouse. His second wife, Topaz, is an artist's model who wafts about communing with nature, naked under her macintosh. But when the American heirs to the castle turn up - an energetic mother and her two eligible sons - Cassandra is quick to sense that their lives will change ...
Best known as the author of The One Hundred and One Dalmations, Dodie Smith wrote this charming and funny novel in the forties. Exiled in America with her pacifist husband, and desperately nostalgic for English eccentricity, she created her own. The result was an immediate bestseller, admired by writers as diverse as Lady Antonia Fraser and Armistead Maupin, and has been made into a film. As the Punch reviewer wrote, it is an excellent novel: 'fascinating, well written, vividly imagined, and crammed with interesting and living characters'
I briefly considered writing this in the kitchen sink, but that would be colossally uncomfortable, and also computers shouldn't really get wet, and I am, sadly, not that eccentric.
I Capture the Castle tell the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, living in not-so-genteel poverty in a vast and crumbling castle. She wants to be a writer like her father (only much less weird and experimental), so she starts a diary, and ends up chronicling the most significant six months in her family's lives.
This is the sort of book that seems to have been made for me. It's extremely British, and I love the British. It's funny, heartfelt, and full of wit. It's It tells the story of an eccentric family with a pair of sisters who fall in love with a pair of brothers... and everything gets messed up. It has a glorious movie adaptation with some of the most handsome--
Oops. Sorry. Got distracted there. But the movie adaptation perfectly captures the wit, charm, and longing of the original, and of course the casting of Stephen is utterly--
FOCUS. I mean, young, tank-top-wearing Henry Cavill is not, sadly, in this book, but there are SO MANY ROMANTICAL ENTANGLEMENTS. Hot heirs to local estates, ruggedly handsome local gardeners, American boys with wicked senses of humor. This book, it overflows.
"I regret to say that there were moments when my deep and loving pity for her merged into a desire to kick her fairly hard."
Cassandra is my literary sister. Her voice is so engaging and delightful and lovely. She's funny, she's quaint, and she's observant. She's the plain younger sister who thinks she's logical and writerly, but she learns fast that love can change a lot of things. Her elder sister, Rose, lives like someone in a Jane Austen novel, desperately waiting for a rich heir to rescue her from her really dire financial situation (the book is set in the 1930's, for the record). Oh, wait, look-y there. The two young, rich, eligible heirs to nearby Scoatney Hall have just returned from America. Rose sets her sight on the eldest, but of course, things aren't that simple.
I read this book for the first time when I was about thirteen or fourteen. It was one of my mom's favorite books from her childhood, and soon it became one of my own. It's a classic that reads more modern, that feels accessible and will make you giggle and swoon. There's a bittersweet strain through his book as they fade further into poverty, and her formerly successful author father gets more and more stuck in writer's block. He hadn't written a word in ten years, and the whole town thinks he's a drunk, even though he really just sits up in his tower reading detective novels. For a long time, Cassandra and her stepmother coddle him, believing him to be a genius, but finally they snap and... well, things start changing.
There's also a scene where the hot guys arrive for the first time at the castle while Cassandra is in the bath.
It's hard to summarize this book, honestly. When boiled down, it could sound trite or predictable. When summarized a different way, it can sound melodramatic and soap-operatic. And, well, it is, in a way. But it's also eccentric, hilarious, strange, wonderful, and perfect for Janeites and/or those with a raging case of Anglophilia.
And one more for the road: