Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Almost 7 PM, and the skies, awaiting a near-full moon, are dark. Within this pervading stillness, I read the final pages of William Fiennes's memoir, The Music Room.
Do you know this story? Have you heard about the castle in which Fiennes grew up, and how it shaped him? Have you heard about his brother, Richard, who suffered from severe epilepsy, lived for Leeds United soccer games, exalted the wing work of herons, and erupted, often, into the smithereening hands of fury before he retreated—confused, ashamed? There were other siblings and other tragedies in this ancient place. There were also two parents who honored Richard for what he could be and gave him everything he was capable of receiving. Two parents who, in Fiennes's telling, emerge as parents in memoirs rarely do—which is to say supremely good, outrageously gentle, never self-glorifying, never self-pitying, and still, despite so much, utterly present and in love with life.
There is hush throughout this book—a tumble through past and present, a drift across here-we-were and here-we-are, time in a collision with time. There are long slides of description regarding a castle that cannot be contained by words, or mapped, and then, embedded, are scenes of aching, particulate precision (Richard tracks a heron, Richard skates on a frozen moat, Richard burns his mother with a frying pan, Richard sings, Richard smashes ancient glass, Richard accuses, Richard lays a heavy (loving) hand upon Mum, Richard will not bathe, Richard celebrates Leeds, Richard recites a poem from memory, Richard suffers, William is there, William watches, William wonders). Then, like marks of punctuation (something solid, something fixed), there are episodic histories of epilepsy science, the scarred and fuming brain revealed.
One senses no opportunism in this story—only the need to tell it. Only the need to let it be known that a castle was a home, and a brother was loved, and parents did their best, and a boy became a man who became a writer who wants to remember, and does.
It's that simple. And it isn't.