So I read I Capture the Castle earlier this month. I'm a big fan of children's literature and some of my absolute favorite children's books are from this time period. Plus the family LIVED in a castle so how could it miss. Except for me it did. I mean, I could appreciate the excellent writing and the crazy wonderful setting but it just felt so incredibly dated that I really struggled with it. That being said I don't expect books written in the 1930s to have the same views on social justice issues as we do today but I am expecting to still have an enjoyable reading experience.
Now I read a fair number of books that were published in 50+ years ago and that dated feeling usually isn't a problem for me even when the book contains shining examples. Agatha Christie's treatment of the locals at archeological digs at times is painful. Ian Fleming has had James Bond essentially state that he feels that women should either be in the bedroom or the kitchen. Even my beloved Elizabeth Enright has Portia staying at home tending house while her male cousin is out having a few grand adventures in Gone-Away Lake. Yet, these three authors are some of my absolute favorites.
So what's the difference? There's really two things that makes me fall in love with some books and want to run away from others. The first is the amount of page time the datedness gets. Yes, Agatha Christie can be incredibly dismissive of the local people hired to work on digs that feature prominently in her books but in terms of page time it gets maybe 4 sentences in the entire book. Portia's cleaning the playhouse takes maybe a paragraph and most of this is about how much fun she's having with her friend who is helping her. James Bond's cringe-worthy comments may show up twice in the book.
The second thing is the depth of the story as a whole. Yes, Elizabeth Enright sticks very much with traditional gender roles but Portia is also shown as being just as smart and capable as her cousin. James Bond may not believe that women have any roll in espionage but in Moonraker and Diamonds are Forever Gayla Brandt and Tiffany Case show time and time again that they are just as smart and observant as Bond AND they both save the day. As well Bond comes out very strongly against sexual assault of any kind as well as physical abuse. So while these books may contain occasional comments that make me roll my eyes hard what these characters do and how they treat those around them tends to take the sting about it.
So just what about I Capture the Castle kept it from being on my keeper shelf? It violated both of these things. For one thing the focus on getting the oldest sister married off to a rich man was so constant and blatant that I think Jane Austen's Mrs. Bennett might have blushed. As well there just wasn't enough depth to save it. The family was in financial ruins and no one seemed to care or be able to come up with a plan that DIDN'T involve marrying money. For me the characters never showed enough of other sides of their personalities to keep this on the nostalgic side of dated and instead landed squarely in the hard to get past.
What makes a book that is dated readable to you? What would cause you to DNF a book?