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The Music Room: A Memoir


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About the Author

William Fiennes's first book, The Snow Geese, was a winner of the Somerset Maugham Award, the Hawthornden Prize, and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. He lives in England.


This lushly detailed and haunting follow-up to Fiennes's award-winning first memoir, Snow Geese, is at once a paean to a much-beloved sibling and to their often magical life at the family's castle, where moats and gloomy rooms filled with portraits are mostly enchanted playspaces. Darker forces were at work, though, on Fiennes's brother, Richard, and as Rich's epileptic seizures increased in frequency and severity, he became violent, at one point even striking his mother in the face with a hot cast-iron pan. For readers who enjoy meditations on sibling bonds and coming-of-age with English country settings. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.] Readalike: Christopher Lukas's Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival.-Elizabeth Brinkley, Granite Falls, WA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Just after Fiennes (Snow Geese) was born, his family moved into a medieval English estate that included a castle surrounded by a moat. The estate was an inheritance passed down from his father's ancestors since the 14th century. The castle in particular proves to be the book's most evocative metaphor for how every man is and is not an island. The book is part memoir, part journalistic profile and philosophical digression, all revolving around Richard, Fiennes eldest brother, who suffered from extreme epilepsy. In taut and exacting prose that profits grandly from vivid descriptions of the estate grounds and the working-class people who care for it, Fiennes recounts life alone in a home that was mostly only semiprivate. It was often used by TV and film crews as a backdrop. His older twin brother and sister went to boarding school while Richard "convalesced" in an insane asylum. Fiennes recalls the trials of familial love punctuated by a brother's violent seizures and outbursts (once scalding their mother's face with a hot cast-iron pan). His portrayal of Richard, moreover, is at once affectionate and brazenly honest. Fiennes allows him to come off as sick, magical yet somewhat boring (he talks incessantly about his favorite soccer team). The book feels fluffed up at times with asides on the history of epilepsy, but more often than not these serve the greater purpose of evoking a sense of continuity and reflection. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Exemplary." -- The Telegraph "An artful memory piece about a unique home life." -- Kirkus Reviews "Humane rather than melodramatic, a lovely memoir rich with poignancy of family and place." -- Wall Street Journal "A haunting lament for a life that could have been and the love that remained for a broken mind." -- Amanda Foreman, author of The Duchess

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