Well, what a delight this book was. I think the only astonishing thing is that I had never come across it before. Told from the point of view of Cassandra as she writes her journal, she really does set out to capture the castle: to put into words her life, and her family’s lives, in the ruined castle in which they all live. It is a masterpiece of characterisation. As we see all of the characters through her eyes, we come to know them as she does, and to love them as she does. It is no wonder that this book is held so very dear in the hearts of many a reader.
Many of the things that Cassandra writes struck a chord with me. ‘When I read a book,’ she says ‘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’. The characters in this book really do come alive for the reader
I have to confess to taking my time over this book, slowing down as I realised the potential for the sisters, Rose and Cassandra, to come into conflict over a love interest. It was almost as if I was trying to stay away from them while they sorted it out because I did not want to get caught up in their falling out, should it come.
And that’s the thing with this book. The characters and their fates really matter to you. I wanted everything to work out for them. Read through modern eyes, however, there are some troubling aspects. Topaz’s declaration that she needs to be ill-treated in a relationship, or that she needs to be needed were a little disconcerting for me, particularly as we see how easily her husband can become violent, even with those he professes to love. I didn’t like that part of the book at all. But then, I found the frustrated, creative supposed genius Mortmain to be a particularly unlikable character. It would be interesting as an exercise to write the book from the point of view of Topaz. Or even Mortmain. It would be a a very different book.
Which brings me to my final point. It is Cassandra’s voice that makes this book the delight that it is. And I now understand why it is a book I keep going back to.
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