Having heard an extract of this biography some time ago and Broughton Castle being so close by it seemed a good choice. It has three strands; William Feinnes childhood in the family home a 700 year old moated castle, the sad deterioration of his brother as his epilepsy progresses and the medical details of the development in medical treatment for the illness.
William Feinnes describes what for him was a wonderful childhood. He grew up in a house owned by the family for centuries, which they shared with film crews, theatre groups, musicians and faithful staff as well as a possible 'ghost', but if there was one it was a friendly one, as Mrs Fiennes told people 'as it did not give then any trouble'. The author says as a child he never asked 'why the house was open to the public and that thousands of strangers walked past our bedrooms and peered into the kitchen window each year'. He did however understand that the staff had to be paid.
This theme of duty to care ran through the entire book. The parents dedication to caring for the house as part of the country's heritage and therefore to leave it in good order for future generations. The family's care for each other and especially Rich, the son and heir who at a young age developed epilepsy that was to destroy his life, challenge the family and as his behaviour changes as his illness progressed see many of their expectations challenged. What came across very strongly was the family's 'ordinariness' despite these things. They seem to be self contained, a real paradox when we appreciate how much they needed the outside world to keep their own physically, and practically afloat. We felt a real warmth for the parents, both who gave unceasingly.
The book is very visual, the writing drawing very clear pictures. There are wonderful descriptions of the father taking Richard and William tree felling, clearing the moat and doing ordinary things even though at times the reader gets the impression that these are extraordinary people in difficult circumstances. Mother oils the suits of armour with WD40 to keep the hinges working and touches up the wall paper with a fine paint brush where it is beginning to fade. The author himself draws a wonderful picture of his discovery of the house and its contents and talks about how parts, for him seem to be beyond where it is safe to explore.
But the main trust is the about the author's older brother, told from his perspective. He seems to have no difficulty in accepting that Rich is different, that he can fluctuate from gentle giant to unpredictably aggressive in seconds. That he behaves in a way that might terrify others and that his behaviour becomes so unmanageable at home that he has to go to a special centre; sent away but not as in so many case to be hidden from sight but to enable the family to go on loving him and offering him at weekends and for holidays as much love and caring as they can.
We wondered why it was called the Music Room, but it seems that in this room there were many happy memories including mother playing her viola, practising her scales, the author's fascination for the instruments, the metronome and the lavish furnishings. But also of the family gathered there together and Rich singing. He held the attention of them all, dressed in his suit and waistcoat, holding his score out like a professional he sang out of tune and seemingly beguiled them all. Sadly Rich dies at 41.