Category Archives: diarist

I Capture the Castle

While reading I Capture the Castle I thought it could be adapted into a very good play because the antics of the characters would have people laughing out loud. And Google told me that it has already been done. I recently saw the movie after reading the book and here I talk about them both. You have been warned!

I wish I had read this book as a teen, I would have been bowled over by it. The book is a tad wordy (I only felt that when she was describing the castle too much). No wonder she admired Julian Barnes’ masterful economy of words.

The Mortmains are a crazy bunch. The writer and father James Mortmain’s creative juices seem to have run out after one successful book. The family lives in genteel poverty in the hope that one day he will produce another masterpiece. Topaz, is his loyal wife, and eccentric but beautiful stepmother to his three children. She communes with nature to keep her sanity and needs to be a muse to exist. They live with their daughters, Rose and Cassandra, and their little brother, the studious Thomas. They are joined by Stephen, the son of their dead housekeeper who does chores around the house.

Cassandra, the younger sister, is like Elizabeth Bennet in the sense that her mind is not on matrimony unlike older sister Rose. Like Austen, her mind is on literary pursuits. She dreams of becoming a writer like her father which one would think is surprising because of the example he has set. So she writes diary entries for practice to sharpen her claws prose.

Poverty doesn’t bother Cassandra as much as it bothers Rose. Cassandra takes refuge in writing and hence she is saner (she believes that). Even though Rose is the elder sister, it is she who is childish in her ways, demanding things that she knows are impossible.

In spite of her father’s example Cassandra wants to be a writer (natural proclivity?) like her father. Both the sisters don’t do any housework – it is shared by Topaz and Stephen. The onus of earning money is on the menfolk. Published in 1934, the book appears dated because of the time period it is set in. The men and women were defined by set roles, rigid and fixed by society.

There’s talk of Bennets (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) in the beginning, and Rose is hell bent on marrying the first rich suitor that comes a-knocking to get out of poverty even if she doesn’t love him. And that is where Simon Cotton comes in.

Cassandra is a precocious narrator (I would never call her ‘consciously naïve because I don’t know what it means!), who wants to be a writer and is always recording things that happen in her life in a notebook. This was at a time when paper is scarce, and there was no electricity in the castle, mind you. She lives in her head (like most writers) which some times makes her miserable, and she has no understanding of how the world works that adds to the ensuing drama.

The way the story is narrated (Aren’t epistolary narratives the best?) by Cassandra through her journal entries, it puts us right in her shoes.

They live on the castle on a lease and haven’t paid the rent in a long time. It is when the owners arrive, the Cottons from America, the story takes a different turn.

A few pages in I knew why I Capture the Castle is a cult classic. It seems like a fairytale in the beginning with very good dialogue, and the setting but the ending is ambiguous and quite realistic, open ended which is quite a departure for books written in those times, especially for the kind of story it told.

The book will give you a bad case of the giggles, whether you are reading in public or in private. I tried to keep the wide grin off my face to appear respectable (read not look like a complete idiot in the park where I have maintained over the years a very serious no nonsense persona) but the narration by Cassandra is such that you will fail.

A story where the women decide who, where, and when they want to end up with someone (if at all), and choose to walk out of marriages when it doesn’t work the way they want it to – it would have been groundbreaking for the time it was written in.

So many things have been talked about in this book without being self conscious, which would have otherwise made reading it a tedious affair. It touches on poverty, nudism, religion, psychoanalysis, distinction between the classes, and a very real portrait of a marriage and family. Also shows us a portrait of an eccentric writer, artistic expression and the way genius works (or doesn’t work) and what the people living with him have to put up with.

The book destroys many idealistic notions of love. The teens reading it will have a realistic idea about consent, love, longing, heartbreak and infatuation; they are different things whose boundaries sometimes overlap. The book drives home the message that it is okay to make mistakes. And most importantly it is okay not to find the love of your life the first time around.

The social observations  the book makes and the way Cassandra views the world, it is true what another reviewer said and what I had felt from the beginning – it’s Austen for the 20th century. Continue reading I Capture the Castle

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Notes of the diary on the diarist

What does she keep scribbling in me all the times?Not that I’m complaining(in fact I love it) I’m always there for her,after all that’s my job.Though the world considers us to have no feelings(being inanimate and all) I feel every stab of pain and every whoop of happiness by the words she chooses to write in me.

I like it when she takes her time and writes lovingly in me caressing the pages and feeling each and every word.The cool handwriting,the light slant of the pen shows me that she’s happy and good memories are being recorded.When the writing is irregular and sloppy and too much pressure is put on my delicate pages and its more scribbling than writing, I know she’s troubled and something bad has happened,which she is letting out of her system the only way she can.I feel sad when she gets like this but I’m relieved that she has me to help her get through any trying time in her life.She goes on and on for pages and pages and I know the end is near when her grip is not that hard and she writes at a slower pace, steadily empty of all negativity and almost always ending on a hopeful note.That’s one of the things I like best about her.She will start out a cynic and end a dreamer which is the only thing definite about her.All other things keep changing.She’s really mutable.A human yo yo would be more apt.One day she’s on cloud nine and the next day she’s down in the dumps,both because of the very same incident.What changes, then, is her perspective which is inextricably linked with her mood,the prism through which she views things and which colours everything.I really wish she’d be more optimistic and also more pragmatic.I worry about her but I know as long as she writes she will be just fine because that is the way she deals.

I wish she would write about her good days more.Not that there aren’t many good days but that she writes very few sentences about them(in comparison to the bad days) and ends them very soon.I wish I could change that.Not because I want to hear about good things more,I  just want her to have vivid memories of good things so that she can go back to them later and relive them.They will be her guiding light,her beacon,her light at the end of the tunnel or her silver lining,whatever you choose to call it, in the tough dark times and bleak moments.And of course it is the only thing that’s worth its weight in platinum  when warm feelings of nostalgia envelope her.

More on her idiosyncrasies later.