The Music Room
London, Picador, 2009, 211p
Although not a fantasy novel, The Music Room read like a dream. William Fiennes had the most unusual childhood, growing up in a castle, owned by his family for many centuries. It is a true story, detailing his childhood - adventures around the vast estate, day-to-day interruptions from the visiting public, and the difficulty of understanding his older brother's epilepsy.
This novel can be broken down into three elements: Fiennes' vivid descriptions of the castle and countryside, exploring the beauty of the Oxfordshire countryside; memories of Richard's behaviour, a result of brain damage caused by an epileptic fit; and a documentation of the history of scientific discovery with regards to epilepsy, from early speculations to more recent attempts at solutions.
It is incredible how Fiennes brings you into his memories, placing you at the scene - be it a walk through the forest, or witnessing a fight between Richard and his parents. He does this by switching between tenses: first reminiscing about his memories of a particular event, then changing to present tense, taking you right into the depths of the memory, like it is happening right now. It has a powerful effect on your imagination, hypnotising you into this dreamy world.
I knew very little about epilepsy or brain damage before reading this novel, but now I feel far more informed, open-minded, sympathetic. As Fiennes grow up, he realises that his childhood will be temporary, whilst Richard's is not something he will grow out of. Richard is short-tempered, finds it difficult to rationalise, and his moods are often dictated by the Leeds United score.
Reflecting on his childhood, Fiennes comments on how little he questioned. He never thought to ask why visitors toured his house through the day, or why people were so accepting of Richard's unusual behaviour. It is not until we grow up, leave home, meet others that we realise that our experiences are often unique. As in When God Was a Rabbit, we see here how we are moulded and defined by our family and childhood.