Greetings, welcome and salutations and happy new year to one and all. I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted but I’ve brought a special story out of the woodwork for the occasion.
Now you’ll have to give me some lee-way, because I didn’t read today’s book as a child. I have little excuse, save the fact that although most of these stories are about my childhood, they are primarily about the feelings that I had the first time I read certain books. With that in mind, I’ll be looking back on a novel I discovered only a few years ago: Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, or, the book I read the summer I fell in love.
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” – I Capture the Castle
I’m a firm believer that some books come to me at the exact right moment in my life, they show up with stories that mean more, say more because of the point I am at when I come across them. These are the books that feel like they can set me on fire, just with their words. Stories that seem like the author looked into some crystal ball and reached down into my very soul to fish out the perfect words for exactly how it feels to be heartbroken, or raging, or totally, stupidly in love.
“Certain unique books seem to be without forerunners or successors as far as their authors are concerned. Even though they may profoundly influence the work of other writers, for their creator they’re complete, not leading anywhere.” – I Capture the Castle
For once I’m going to refrain from giving dates and ages but suffice to say it wasn’t all that long ago and the summer wasn’t all that warm. Sometimes you just discover the exact right story, at the exact right time.
But that wasn’t the case with I Capture the Castle. I had bought the book about five years previously, when I discovered JK Rowling’s recommendation on the front cover. It then spent weeks, months and years sitting on a shelf in my bedroom, ignored for its offensive lack of wizards and knights and magic. I let it gather dust and ink stains, never getting read.
That was, until that summer, the one where it rained too much and I didn’t care. The summer where I finally understood what it felt like to have your heart leave its chest. The summer that I fell in love. I found myself in my favourite second hand bookshop and I came across a second edition reprint of the novel from 1950. It’s a beautiful book, with a dusky yellow hardback binding, leather embossed lettering on the spine and blackened edges to every single page. I’m almost certain that it’s worth virtually nothing – except to me – but at that moment, it was one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous volumes I’d ever seen.
I still couldn’t tell you why. I suppose I’ve always had something of a soft spot for books that are old – books that have lived. And although I know that the story hadn’t changed one single bit in more than five decades, somehow, this book felt different. Suddenly the words of Cassandra Mortmain meant more to me, the girl who was writing her words from the kitchen sink was suddenly someone I had to know. All at once, her words had weaved some sort of spell over me, and I was hooked. It didn’t matter that there was no mention of magic to be found in her pages. This book was enchanted all by itself. Needless to say, I bought the second copy of the book ( something which only bibliophiles seem to understand – that even though a book can have the same words inside – it can still feel like a different story) and carried it home like it was buried treasure.
“When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it – or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don’t suppose many people try to do it.” –I Capture the Castle
I remember reading Cassandra Mortmain’s diary in a week, like it was the most delicious dessert I had ever found and I never wanted to stop eating. It didn’t matter that she was a girl from a different time, a different world to mine. For that week, with my weathered novel, I felt like I was living inside of the dillapidated castle, right alongside Cassandra and her eccentric family, eating meager breakfasts with them, watching Stephen in the Garden and Rose practice her seduction. Trailing after Topaz and of course, falling desperately, head over heels for Simon.
“Just to be in love seemed the most blissful luxury I had ever known. The thought came to me that perhaps it is the loving that counts, not the being loved in return — that perhaps true loving can never know anything but happiness. For a moment I felt that I had discovered a great truth.” -, I Capture the Castle
I never would have thought that falling in love would change my perspective on the way that I would read. I had spent years falling in – and out – of love with characters, living vicariously through unreliable narrators who had raging love affairs and passionate embraces. I was sure that books were the one thing that wasn’t going to change, just because I had met someone who could make my insides melt by walking into a room, someone who made me feel like a thousand different versions of myself all boiled down into the best possible one. Someone who could make me happy, incandescently happy, just by smiling at my face. I never thought that it would change how I read, how I felt when I opened up a book. Because that part of me – that sacred, secret corner of my mind, so long a refuge from the weathers of the world – was supposed to stay constant. But my addled, lovesick brain managed to invade it, and instead of paling the words that I had so lovingly stored there, instead of disproving them and setting them alight in the harsh light of day,instead, it made them shine. It took the words that were already beautiful, words filled with yearning and hope and tentative first love of Cassandra Mortmain and solidified them into diamonds.
“But some characters in books are really real.” – I Capture the Castle
Even though our stories were entirely different, and luckily for me, mine continued on a much happier note than Cassandra’s, I still felt a deep and powerful affinity with her throughout that summer. Because for the days I was reading her diary, and meeting her family, and watching her fall in love, Cassandra Mortmain was my friend. And I got to fall in love right alongside her. And even though technically she was in my life for much longer than that, it took meeting the right person and finding the perfect book for me to unlock Cassandra from her pages.
I fell in love with her reality just as much as I did with my own. That summer I was filled with that feeling of happy anticipation, like the first light of dawn on morning clouds, or the smell of chocolate before you’ve tasted it on your tongue, like I was on the cusp of a roller-coaster about to plunge downhill. I was falling in love and I was taking Cassandra Mortmain’s diary with me. Because those are the words I want to remember. The words that will always be beautiful. The ones I read, the very first time I fell in love.