Friday, 28 October 2011

FRIDAY BOOK REVIEW - The Music Room by William Fiennes

I’m one of the judges for the first novel category of the Costa Book Awards this year - so I'm up to my eyes in books at the moment. For that reason, I’ve decided to steer clear of novels for this week’s Friday book recommendation and choose a non-fiction title instead.

The Music Room was published in paperback last year but I only read it a few weeks ago. I was completely bowled over by it, so bowled over in fact, that I chose it for my book club to read. The eight of us have got very different tastes and it’s not often that we all love the same book – but this was one of those rare occasions. It got the thumbs-up all round.

Two things inspired me to buy The Music Room. The first was hearing a moving interview with author William Fiennes and the second was the fact that it’s set at Broughton Castle, the Oxfordshire family home where Fiennes and his siblings grew up. I used to live a few miles from Broughton and know it well. I’ve walked from Broughton Castle across the fields to North Newington scores of times and whether it’s the height of summer or the depths of winter, the beauty of the landscape never palls.

In one sense The Music Room is the story of Fiennes’s own journey to adulthood and in another it’s the story of an ancestral home dating back 700 years. There’s a moat, gatehouse tower, woods and parkland, (the castle has featured in loads of films, from The Madness of King George to Shakespeare in Love) and it’s clear that running the place is a major undertaking. While Fiennes’s childhood friends lived in “warm, compact and efficient” houses, his home was full of historical exhibits, rattling windows and a ghostly long gallery he was scared to loiter in alone.

But the heart of the book is Fiennes’s older brother Richard, a charismatic figure with a passion for Leeds United, puns and herons. Eleven years older than William and severely epileptic, Richard was a towering presence in everyone’s life and as his mother kept repeating to them all after his death at the age of 41, “we are rich in what we have lost. We are rich.”

Beautifully written, tender and heartfelt, The Music Room is a stunning read.

The Music Room by William Fiennes (Picador, £8.99)

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