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A beautifully-written memoir almost like a novel
on 25 February 2009
Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire is a 700-year-old stately home which nowadays attracts numerous visitors and film crews. William Fiennes, whose family has lived there for centuries, is a journalist and writer whose previous autobiographical book, The Snow Geese, ended with him returning to Broughton. He has now written his own account of growing up there, in particular with his older brother Richard who suffered from severe epilepsy and was often very difficult and even violent.
If one didn't know otherwise, one might take this memoir for a first-person fiction. It seems to me that Fiennes takes a step back from the specificity of time and place which a factual memoir would emphasise; for example, the phrase "Broughton Castle" does not occur at all. There are many reconstructed conversations which, I suspect, are a long way from pure reportage. It is like an imaginative and beautifully-written novel, interspersed with accounts of past scientific research into epilepsy (complete with a list of sources at the end).
The book covers a roughly 25-year time span, up to the time of Richard's death at age 41, a death which suddenly and unexpectedly intrudes into the narrative by way of a 10-word sentence (which, coincidentally, I reached just hours after hearing the news of young Ivan Cameron). We read how the young narrator grew up with the regular intrusion of film crews and well-known TV stars as part of normal domestic life, and we can imagine his surprise on discovering that most homes do not have such experiences!
This book will be of interest to anyone who has visited Broughton Castle, and to anyone else who enjoys an excellently-written account of growing up in a stately home.