Monday, August 6, 2012
Review: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
Seventeen-year-old Althea lives in a crumbling, laughable faux-castle on a cliff designed by a debilitatingly romantic ancestor. Her family has no money, her two stepsisters are stingy with theirs, their castle is falling apart around them, and they will starve to death unless the practical Althea marries well. Althea sets her sights on the handsome and rich Lord Boring…but in addition to the irritating and unwanted near-constant presence of Lord Boring’s cousin Mr. Fredericks, there’s a lot more that doesn’t go according to Althea’s plans.
KEEPING THE CASTLE is a quick, Austen-flavored story that you can breeze through in a few short hours. Is it a keeper? Well…I enjoyed the voice and the setup, but felt the story was too short to develop the characters and their predicaments into full and empathizable creations.
My favorite thing about KEEPING THE CASTLE was definitely its Austenian influence. Aptly described as a combination of Dodie Smith’s lovely I Capture the Castle (another book I loved) and Jane Austen’s works, KEEPING THE CASTLE features a spunky heroine whose extreme pragmatism is cause for many moments of laughs and head-shaking sighs. Althea’s practical nature make her the perfect foil for the social foibles that typically occur in Austenian novels, but it is when that delightful personality comes up against tired Austenian elements and a too-quick plot development that things stumble for me.
No matter how much I love Jane Austen, there comes a point where Austenian elements tire me out. Unfortunately, I felt like KEEPING THE CASTLE crammed all of the most recognizable elements of Austen’s novels into a quick 250 pages, resulting in sensory/familiarity overload for me. First, Althea seeks a rich husband (youth and attractiveness a plus but not required). Later, she attempts to matchmake between two of her new acquaintances. Okay, to be honest, I’ve only read two of Austen’s novels to their conclusions, but combining the most familiar elements of Pride and Prejudice and Emma into one story felt like overkill to me.
Additionally, the short length of the book prevented the characters and plot from developing thoroughly. It was hard for me to ever get a grasp on the attraction between Althea and Mr. Fredericks. Bickering couples are sometimes fun for me to read about, but unlike the change in Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s feelings toward and understanding of each other, Althea and Mr. Fredericks never seem to undergo the same kind of mental evolution. Secondary couplings are also barely explained, with the result that I flitted from one marital revolution to the other in a state of confusion and only polite interest, instead of emotional investment in the characters and their outcomes.
Overall, KEEPING THE CASTLE is a relatively fun and diverting read for a lazy afternoon (or a sleepless night, if you’re me), but it doesn’t as if it will be a staple of Austenian literature.
Cover discussion: It's pretty unassuming, and I had overlooked this title at first because I wasn't sure from the cover what the book would be about.
Viking Juvenile / June 14, 2012 / Hardcover / 272pp. / $16.99