This is the story of an eccentric family that lives in a dilapidated castle in the English countryside in the 1930s. Written in journal entries by 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, the reader sees the castle and its inhabits through her [delightful!] point-of-view during a transformative year in her life.
This is a classic coming-of-age story; Cassandra is faced with adversity and in her journey through it, gains maturity and achieves adulthood. As with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I also read recently, I found the voice of Cassandra the "child" to be far more compelling than the voice of Cassandra the "adult." Cassandra is a very real and vital voice; I love her sense of the ridiculous. Francie from ATGIB and Cassandra both are two of the most delightful narrators I've ever encountered. They are funny, artless and honest. But for both of these books, my enjoyment decreased hugely after the loss of their childhoods.
Maybe adults have forfeited the wonder and beauty and simplicity of childhood in the quest for maturity and experience. Maybe that's why when childhood--innocence--is depicted so well in print, it is completely captivating. After the loss of innocence occurs in these two novels, when the characters have already come of age, the beauty and the wonder are lost. Cassandra (and Francie) undergoes a journey--not a physical one, but an emotional one--and emerges as a woman, experienced in life and love--on the other side. Without this transformation, the novel would feel incomplete. I always like having a destination, in life or in books, to journey toward, and I see the importance in Cassandra reaching hers. However, I would have preferred to remember Cassandra as she was as a child, saying things like:
"I am not so sure I should like the 'facts of life,' but I have got over the bitter disappointment I felt when I first heard about them, and one obviously has to try them sooner or later."
Another one I enjoyed:
"My imagination longs to dash ahead and plan developments, but I have noticed that when things happen in one's imaginings, they never happen in one's life, so I am curbing myself."
And a beautiful way to end the book:
"Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you."
First 2/3 to 3/4 of the book: A+... adorable and laugh-out-loud delightful. I keep saying delightful, but that's the best word that comes to mind.
Whole book: B