However the main thrust of the story revolves around James Brodie, a hat-seller, who lives in a fantastical house that he has designed in the small Scottish town of Levenford. Brodie is a paterfamilias, a patriarch and a violent bully. He has completely cowed his wife, Margaret, who has been complicit in permitting him to bully his three children: Matt, a boy of working age, stepping out with his girlfriend Agnes; Mary a young girl with a new boyfriend Denis, of whom Brodie disapproves on the grounds that he is Irish and that his father owns a pub; and Nessie, Brodie's favourite, a young girl at school who he drives to be always the top of the class. Rounding out this dominated household is Brodie's mother, a crone whose only pleasure in life is her food.
The mostly-predictable plot delivers a moral nemesis to Brodie as, one by one, and in a variety of ways, his children and his wife fail to live up to the standards he has demanded and desert him. But the pleasure of the book lies not in a plot that twists and turns but in the very inevitability of fate. The fundamental strength of the book is the strength of the characters, especially that of Brodie.
At one point (2.4) Brodie is said to be as proud as Lucifer and the same fall is predicted; perhaps there is a genre of plot which exemplifies the phrase 'pride comes before a fall' such as that of Lucifer or Icarus.
It is, for modern tastes, over-written with too much description and certainly too many exclamation marks!!! One can see its Dickensian heritage. But as a portrait of life in a small town it was a deserved best-seller and it is a shame that it seems to be out of print.
A notable feature of this novel is that one of the characters is killed off in the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879 when a bridge collapsed with a train on it.
The first chapter was, for me, the best, with a masterful portrayal of the dynamics of the little family, cramped into the confines of the small 'castle', and dominated by fear of the patriarchal bully.
The dialogue is written mostly in lowland Scots dialect:
- "a' these hard frosts maun break some time"
- "I dinna ken what it's to celebrate exactly, but ye micht ca' it a beanfeast without any beans."
- "Bide a wee"
- "If ye've something to say then we'll all stop and listen to the wonder o' it." (1.1)
- "Matthew, looking stiff and sheepish in a brand new suit, so new indeed that when he was not in motion his trouser legs stood to attention with edges sharp as parallel presenting swords." (1.4)
- "the rending emotions of a pain intolerably sweet, and a pleasure unbearably intoxicating." (1.6)
- "Unstable as water, and as shallow, she reflected merely the omnipresent shadow of another stronger than herself." (1.9)
- "She was, of course, a Christian woman, with all the respectable convictions which this implied. To attend church regularly on Sundays ... to condemn the use of the grosser words of the vocabulary, such as 'Hell' or 'Damn', fully justified her claim to godliness." (1.9)
- "You're like a knotless thread" (2.7)
- "her actions were as stealthy and inaudible as the movements of a shadow." (2.8)
Cronin also wrote
- The Keys of the Kingdom about a Scottish missionary in China; a wonderful book which never fails to make me cry
- The Citadel about how an idealistic young doctor loses his way in life
- Adventures of a Black Bag: a series of short stories which provided the inspiration for the BBC TV drama series Dr Finlay's Casebook
October 2019; 460 pages
Other works with 'Castle' in the title featured in this blog include:
- In Bluebeard's Castle by George Steiner (literary criticism)
- The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wold
- I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (a classic novel; also made into a film)
- The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (short stories with a linked, memoir theme)
- The Castle by Franz Kafka (a classic novel)
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (dystopian future novel; also an Amazon prime series)
- The Castle of Adventure by Enid Blyton (a children's novel)
- King of the Castle by Susan Hill (a novel)
- The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (a classic gothic novel)
- Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (a gothic novel from Jane Austen's time)
- We have always lived in the Castle: a gothic fantasy by Shirley Jackson