When I was younger, I remember wishing desperately that I lived in a castle like Cassandra from I Capture the Castle. All those wishes flooded back to me when I read The Music Room. Although very different from the dreamy diary of a teenage girl, this book still made me think about how wonderful it would have been to grow up in a seven hundred year old moated castle.
Fiennes’ memoir is a gentle reflection of life growing up in a castle, with the odd disturbances from an older brother who suffers from severe epilepsy.
Critics have complained that they don’t know how to classify The Music Room, that they don’t know what story Fiennes is actually trying to tell. At first, I did find the storyline a bit puzzling, because there didn’t really seem to be one. However, it didn’t take long for me to slip into the telling of the enchanted life at the castle, where you can while the day away on a boat in the moat, cycle around for hours, or simply explore the many different passageways and staircases. There’s also the added excitement of famous actors coming and going, performing shows and filling the place with strange props.
And Fiennes’ writing really takes you there. With paragraphs like this, you can simply close your eyes and image yourself away to this fantastic place; ‘To swim a whole moat circuit was to move among moorhens, coots and mallards, dragonflies and damselflies, lily pads sitting on the water like jam papers, a heron standing up to its ankles in the shallows: through the cool, shadowed north-east corner, past the sluice-gate jungle of bamboo and elephant rhubarb, down the open straight between the lawn and rising parkland and under the ripple-lit bridge arch where small splash-sounds were amplified and your breathing echoed.’
Another part of life at the castle includes Richard, Fiennes’ older brother. Just like living in a castle seemed completely normal, so did having a brother with epilepsy. The fact that Richard’s personality and social abilities had altered so much after a particularly severe seizure was something the young Fiennes took in his stride. His descriptions of Richard through a child’s innocent eyes are honest and natural. Richard is an intimidating presence in the castle whose mood swings often verge on violent, but what I found especially heart-warming was that this memoir doesn’t show only the difficulties, but also the moments of joy and the normalcy of everyday life.
To leave you with an idea of how his younger brother thought of Richard, here is a paragraph from the book that really stuck out for me. ‘I knew my brother wasn’t like other people, and I was starting to understand that this was because there were scars in his brain, behind his forehead. But I couldn’t think of Richard’s personality as a set of symptoms; I couldn’t think of his character as a manifestation of disease. That would have implied the existence of an ideal healthy Richard my brother was an imperfection of, a dream-Richard this actual person couldn’t measure up against. But there wasn’t any other Richard.’
I recommend this book for anyone that has ever wanted to live in a castle! Click on the picture below for your own copy.