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Book review
The Music Room
  1. Sara Hoffbrand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sara Hoffbrand, 1B Downshire Hill, London NW3 1NR, UK; s.hoffbrand{at}

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Edited by Fiennes William. Published by MacMillan Publishers Ltd, London, 2010, Soft cover, 211 pages. ISBN: 978-0-330-44441-5, £8.99.

William Fiennes has done something beautiful in describing his childhood growing up with an elder brother who had epilepsy. Fiennes strips the biographical details down to the minimum; there are few dates, names or places. The character's ages don't really matter and the episodes might be long or short, but we aren't told. Sometimes it is not clear that the story is even being told in the order in which it happened. This gives the narrative a blurred, but fond familiarity—we don't know these details because that is not what the book is about. This account is autobiographical, but one might easily mistake it for narrative fiction.

The book has as its central character a massive personality, the Fiennes family seat, a medieval castle inherited by his father at the book's opening. While his writing loves his family, it adores his family seat. Using the castle as the setting allows endless magical descriptions of towers and halls, the moat and the grounds. It is an enchanted place serving as backdrop to everyday domestic life. He learns to ride his bike in the Great Hall and we become familiar with the Gatehouse, the Long Gallery, the Groined Passage and rooms named for royalty, the Chapel upstairs above the kitchen, secret doors and Battlements. His mother oils mediaeval suits of armour, muskets, swords and cannon balls decorate the living rooms and enthral his childhood friends. The retainers are happy, the public is invited in for a paid-for view, film crews come regularly to shoot, classic car rallies and fairgrounds visit the grounds, and the family are honourable and chivalrous.

Nature is observed up close with herons, …

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