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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
the nogoodforme Literatus: I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Gosh, Ladies of nogoodforme.com- is there any realm of culture that you're not qualified to incisively opine about? Well, perhaps modern dance, but besides modern dance: HELLS NO! Since we are all exceptionally intelligent and well-read women of letters, we figured that the natural next step would be for us to venture into the realm of literary criticism. So, please delete bookforum.com from your Bookmarks Bar; you wouldn't be needing that snooty garbage anymore. Everything you need to know about books, you'll learn from nogoodforme.com...
As I write this, I am consciously forcing myself not to open up Dodie Smith's Wikipedia entry. Like every single human being in the entire First World, Wikipedia's position as Information Age Staple has made my life way, way easier (especially a couple years ago when I wrote my Business Law final onThe Smartest Guys in the Room, a book about the demise of Enron that I did not read; in fact, I didn't even watch the movie! I did skim the Wikipedia entry, however- NOW who's the smartest guy in the room??), but it has also made my general perception of culture a great deal less fantastic, which, in my case, is a bad thing. To me, the most interesting facet of the incredibly narrow vocation of "literary celebrity" is that said celebrity exists independently of anything that has to do with the writer personally. Right now, all I know about Dodie Smith is:
1) She is English.
2) She was probably born in approximately 1900, but maybe not.
3) She wrote 101 Dalmations, as well as its little-known sequel, The Starlight Barking, which I am DYING to read, but I have recently made up a self-torturous new rule that I am not allowed to ever order any books off of amazon.com again- I have to search and search until I find them. If I don't do that, I will not enjoy the book. So there.
4) She wrote some other books.
5) Her name is a weird nickname for Dorothy.
6) She wrote I Capture the Castle.
7) She looks like this (and had a pet dalmatian, I guess, or maybe just posed with somebody else's dalmatian):
And I would like to keep it that way. If I found out that I Capture the Castle was semi-autobiographical, it would ruin the book for me. It is NOT about Dodie Smith. It is about Cassandra Mortmain, a very good new friend of mine.
Every single review of I Capture the Castle points out that it was the original "angsty teenage girl" novel, which is true, as far as I know. Out of all the angsty teenage girl novels I've ever read (of which there are many), this one was published first. I think it was published in 1948, but I'm not 100% sure, because I'm not allowed to use Wikipedia right now. I Capture the Castle, written in the format of a diary by Cassandra Mortmain, a seventeen-year-old English countryside-ian, falls comfortably into the category of "angsty teenage girl novel" mostly because it is kind of about nothing. Nothing objectively important, at least. JK Rowling describes Cassandra as being "the most charismatic narrator I've ever met," but I have to disagree. I enjoyed spending the week-and-a-half I spent in cahoots with Cassandra predominantly because she wasn't all that charismatic. She was kind of stupid sometimes, often dull, overdramatic, but totally smart and a really good person. Cassandra Mortmain is chill and cool. Every time I opened up the book, I would kind of think to myself, "Oh, Hey! What's up, Cassandra?"
The day after I finished reading I Capture the Castle, I found my ninth-grade diary in my basement, and read it cover-to-cover. The similarities were striking. The genius of this novel lies in how Dodie Smith manages to capture the particular way in which teenage girls (and possibly teenage dudes, but I don't really know) are able to attach extreme significance to experiences and events that are utterly mundane and/or inconsequential in the scheme of things. Mostly, this book is about how Cassandra has a crush on a dude who doesn't have a crush on her, and how another dude has a crush on Cassandra, but she doesn't have a crush on him. My ninth-grade diary deals with the exact same subject matter! And as much as its a hell of a lot worse-written, the sentiment behind the two "works" is pretty much exact, alternating between "woe is me!" and "life is grand!" depending on what happened with which boy at whatever moment. I spent a lot of my reading this book wondering why I was so captivated by it; in conclusion, it was mostly because "it spoke to me." And if you were ever a teenage girl, it will speak to you too- I promise. Once again, I can't speak for the dudes, but maybe they'll like it too? I don't know. I don't get dudes at all.
Other reasons why this book was good:
1. Really lovely English Countryside-y imagery.
2. There is this one part where Cassandra and her sister Rose are getting drunk at an "inn" (that means "bar" in Olde English), and Cassandra drinks cherry brandy and Rose drinks creme de menthe. Then, a hundred-ish pages later, Cassandra is really pissed at Rose and returns to the same "inn" to wallow in her misery. She orders another cherry brandy, and it makes her feel really spitefully stoked that, since she has drunk cherry brandy twice at that "inn", visitors will see the emptier bottle of cherry brandy and thusly, assume it is the more popular of the two liqueurs. That is the exact brand of dumbass rationalization that I myself would employ as a mid-teen.
3. It has an insanely poignant final sentence, the kind of final sentence that makes the entire book a lot better than you thought it was before you read it.
4. The following quote:
"My imagination longs to dash ahead and plan developments; but I have noticed that when things happen in one's imaginings, they never happen in one's life, so I am curbing myself."
Thank you for summing up my entire existence in one sentence, Cassandra Mortmain.
Objective rating: Four out of five stars.
Deeply personal rating: Five out of five stars.
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