Seventeen year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her family live in a rundown house attached to the ruins of a castle. It is the nineteen thirties. Her father, once a famous writer, is quite odd and possibly mad. He hasn’t written anything in twelve years and keeps himself holed up in the gatehouse. Meanwhile, Cassandra, her sister, brother, and eccentric stepmother do the best they can with nothing. It is up to Stephen, the live-in son of their cook who died a while back, to earn money to help support the Mortmain family.
They are atrociously poor. Their living conditions are quite poor. However, their luck seems to change after the Cotton family arrives on their doorstep late one night. (Right after Rose, Cassandra’s older sister, wished on the head of a gargoyle, I might add.) Rose decides the only way to get out of poverty is to get Simon, the wealthy older brother, to fall in love with her. So begins our story full of interlocking love triangles. Cassandra captures everything that occurs from the moment the Cottons showed up until six months later when everything comes to a head, studiously in her journal.
I really enjoyed Cassandra as a narrator. She is highly intelligent and has a way with words. There were some beautifully written passages. I have to say though, that I was a little disappointed at the ending. After all they went through, it sort of fell flat for me, which took me back to my viewing experience of the movie. The end felt sort of anti-climactic.
I did enjoy the writing style though. I have read exactly one Austen, but it had a similar feel. A bit more formal and old-fashioned, which I really enjoyed. Cassandra is witty and smart, although a little annoying when it comes to matters of the heart.
Carol described the book as good parsley, which I suppose is her term for fluff reading. Carol, has insightful opinions, she is super funny, and has very high standards for books. I don’t know that I would call it parsley as I thought the writing was beautiful. I was more engaged with the book because of the story. I also liked the Mortmain family, although I didn’t like where things went in the end.
There were a few ladies who loved the book. They did compare it to Pride and Prejudice, but they were also Austen fans so the fact that the books were similar didn’t bother them too much, although Carol thought it was a bad P&P ripoff. She also thought the author relied on the literary mechanism deux ex machina for the whole book. We discussed whether we thought Cassandra’s father was mentally ill or not. And we discussed why Topaz didn’t have more of an influence over Cassandra and Rose. Topaz is such an individual. It was interesting that she led such an adventurous, independent life before she settled down with Mr. Mortmain. Why was she so encouraging of Rose marrying for money? Why did she marry Mr. Mortmain in the first place. There was plenty of room for discussion where Topaz was concerned.
Overall, it was a mixed verdict with the group. I did enjoy the book up until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed Cassandra’s voice. It was her writing that carried me through the book.