Set in the years following up to the beginning of World War II, Dodie Smith’s first coming-of-age novel is set as if it has been published straight from the protagonist’s private journal. Inserting backstories via the recall of memories, this novel focuses on Cassandra Mortmain and her eccentric family as they struggle with their sudden decline from wealth in their family home; a rundown castle.
Having been brought up on riches from their father’s successful novel Jacob Wrestling, the Mortmains relocate from their family home to a ruined castle with the hopes of inspiring Mr Mortmain to write another best seller. They all have their own dreams for the castle and its future renovations. However, such aspirational plans are immediately dropped when Cassandra’s mother passes away not long after the move, leaving the father to care for both Cassandra and her siblings (Rose and Thomas). It isn’t long until the family are soon selling furniture and their own possessions to keep food on the table.
A decade after the family’s relocation, and the introduction of a new exhibitionist step-mother by the name of Topaz, the family’s future in their castle is in jeopardy as the castle’s rightful owners return from the United States; the Cotton brothers. With nothing left to sell, and with none of the family fit to work full-time, the Mortmains are left with an undetermined future that will bring love to some and loss to others.
Do you secretly indulge in the romance of an Austen novel? Do you find yourself far too invested in troubled fictional families? Do you like a good read? Then I suggest you hurry up and purchase this first from Dodie Smith!
Even though it took a good chapter until I was fully enticed in the narrative, it wasn’t long before I was speeding through the novel in its entirety just to get my hook of Cassandra Mortmain’s life. Smith’s brilliant choice to tell the story from a first person perspective via journal entries could be considered one of the main reasons why it progressed so successfully. The reader is easily able to understand the inner goings of the Mortmain’s lives without the struggle that many felt with many Dickens’ novels were key information was restricted too much for the narrative. With Cassandra narrating the entire story as thoughts enter her mind, the action is instant and a connection is established constantly between the reader and the protagonist as it is her life and her words on the page.
Throughout the novel there are many comparisons to the lives of Cassandra and Rose to many characters from a number of Jane Austen’s classics. Whilst some may feel this was a cliché move on Smith’s part, it truly works within the narrative by introducing aspects of comedy that could be groaned at for being too conventional for a cheesy romance. It not only entertains the reader but it also establishes the age differences between the family so that it is laughable when Cassandra finds herself confused by the flirtations of her older sister with men. I can’t help but admit that I felt as if I was in Cassandra’s post-war England throughout my entire experience with this standalone novel.
Despite my being an avid fan of novels in this particular genre, I can confidently recommend this classic from Dodie Smith to anyone who is looking for the next book to expand their collection. It has all the comedy necessary to break free from the financial problems focused on throughout the narrative and all the romance one would expect from a novel set in such an era. If you can’t bring yourself to admit that these are the things you love in a good book, then keep in mind that there is a castle and every good book has a castle.