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Andrea K Höst

Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy.

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith This starts out with a compulsively readable voice. Rose, Cassandra and Thomas the children of a modernist writer who produced one much-lauded novel and then dived off a mental headland into a spiral of literary self-doubt. Their finances have similarly spiralled downward, and (some years after the death of their mother) they are living a quixotic and pinch-penny life in a decrepit dower house attached to a half-ruined castle. Their father does little but read and brood, and they've been reduced to being dependent on a hired hand, Stephen, who grew up with them.At twenty-one, beautiful Rose is full of angry desperation, seeing only poverty and old-maidery in her future. Seventeen year-old Cassandra wants to be a writer (and we see the story through the vehicle of her journals), and is smart and naive. Thomas is, well, a smart schoolboy who only becomes a person toward the end of the tale. Stephen, a Greek god misplaced from the Elysian Fields, is a welter of self-sacrifice and devotion to Cassandra. Their father is utterly selfish, and has an artist-model second wife who is devoted to him.And then Mr Darcy and Mr Bingham drive into town.Or, at least, two Americans - Simon and Neil Cotton. They're both nice enough people. Simon is thoughtful and literary. Neil is adventurous and a trifle cynical. One has inherited a fortune, and the other plans to go back to America because he needs to make one. Rose, not unnaturally, immediately sets out to win the one with the fortune.By the end of this story, I disliked practically everyone in it. It wasn't particularly their fault – they were much the same people they'd started out as (with some growing up done). But the welter of tangled feelings, the in-love-not-in-love-feeling-pressured-kissing-people-you-shouldn't just wore me down. I didn't feel happy about the romantic resolutions. I was tremendously uncomfortable with self-sacrificial lower-class Stephen (for much of the novel I couldn't decide if I was meant to read him as simply totally virtuous and wonderful, or as a creeper/potential rapist – that kind of mute, persistent devotion can go either way). I loathed the valorisation of the father's literary genius, his sulking for years while allowing his family to starve, and the concluding importance placed on his potential ability to "find a new way of writing".So, yeah – really strong start, but the end just didn't come together for me.