It’s one of my favorite opening lines in all of literature. It’s odd and alluring and adorable all at the same time. You’re hooked, right?
17-year-old narrator Cassandra Mortmain’s family, having fallen on hard times (in the most charming Austenian sense of the phrase), take up residence in a crumbling castle in the English countryside.
Let me repeat. They live in a castle. Eat your hearts out, anglophiles.
Meet a colorful cast of characters, all described with witty brilliance in Cassandra’s journal. There’s Rose, Cassandra’s beautiful but slightly affected elder sister. Topaz, her quirky, artistic stepmother, who has an embarrassing penchant for nude revels in the moonlight. Stephen, the honest, handsome son of the Mortmain’s loyal cook, who, Cassandra is uncomfortable to admit, is a bit in love with her.
Enter Simon and Neil Cotton, wealthy young American men who have just purchased a nearby estate. Eligible suitors! The Mortmains are thrown into a tizzy. When Rose and Simon become engaged, change descends upon the family. Cassandra is caught in the middle, pulled simultaneously towards her love of home and her desire to grow up and join the wide world.
Set in the 1930s, when England, like Cassandra, was teetering on the brink of the modern age, this is one of the most satisfying titles I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Cassandra’s narration is frank, witty, and utterly hilarious. This is one of those books you’ll want to read over and over. Cracking open that cover is like seeing an old friend!
I envy those of you reading this for the first time—it’s like discovering Downton Abbey all over again.