'I Capture The Castle' is possibly my favourite book of all time. Definitely top five. It's the one I turn to when I feel sad, or a bit ill, or hungover - a comfort read, best enjoyed in a hot bath or from under a blanket.
Topaz isn't even the main character - but, to me, she is the dream. I seriously want to be her.
The main character, and charming narrator, is the teenage Cassandra. Topaz is her 29-year-old stepmother, a former artists' model and all-round bohemian beauty. She likes to 'commune with nature', which means running around the garden with no clothes on. She goes around in old moth-eaten tea dresses, or outfits she has fashioned herself from mouldy potato sacks.
She adores her husband, Mortmain (she insists upon calling him by his surname at all times, as she thinks it sounds glamorous) beyond all reasonable measure; she is convinced that he is a genius, even when everyone else is not. She aspires to being a selfless muse type - making it a rule not to be jealous or ever to try to be controlling - but often (sweetly) fails, as she does with so many of her high-minded ideals. I love that she has them at all.
Some of Cassandra's (very fond) observations of Topaz in her diary are truly hilarious. Apparently talking about books with Topaz is pretty painful - she rhapsodises about 'War and Peace' and how its themes left such an impact on her that she tried to manifest her feelings on the text into a painting. Then she can't remember what actually happened, or any of the characters' names.
But the best thing about Topaz is that she is surprisingly pragmatic and resourceful. She is much more capable than she seems, as well as being truly kind-hearted.
That trumps having your picture hanging in the National Portrait Gallery (twice!) and looking like a strangely beautiful Greek goddess. Although those things are pretty cool, too.