Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review - A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's Castle

A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's CastleMy wife gave me this book knowing that it would be of particular interest to me for two reasons. The most obvious to most people would be my affinity for Shakespeare and the fact that this memoir follows the story and history of family members in Cawdor castle...the same location/family that figures in Shakespeare's Macbeth. That in itself makes this interesting enough. Even more fun to me is that (supposedly), I'm a distant descendant of an early Thane of Cawdor...or at least a member of the Cawdor family. My aunt/uncle supposedly traced us all the way. In my own records, I only have information back as far as the early 1700s in Northern Scotland 50-100 miles north of Cawdor.

Regardless of whether I'm a distant-distant-distant cousin of the author and the family, this was still a rather interesting memoir. It's well written and does a great job of combining contemporary family history with the history of generations of Thanes and others in the area.

The historical stories were very interesting. The narrative voice is humorous and makes the ancient tales seem vivid and very accessible.

The modern day story is sad and distressing at times. One of the reviewer quotes from the back cover identifies the author/writing as "corageously honest." I can agree. Life in her family was difficult. She tells about feeling a bit distant and separate from her fellow school mates and not being able to relate to them and their modern parties and ideas while she lived in a castle in an antiquated family system.

Her father Hugh became Thane in his mid 20s when her grandfather died. Through the course of the book, it's very apparent that Hugh wasn't ready to become Thane and didn't really know what to do with it. The estate suffered. But his family suffered even more. Hugh became a violent alcoholic and womanizer. He liked to put on a good show but at the same time he was almost a sociopath or, at the very least, not a big fan of dealing with people (aside from disposable women).

I don't want to sound like I'm judging Hugh too harshly and it was evident that the author didn't want to leave us with that perception either. At the end of the book, she outlines a variety of external influences that weighed heavily on the life/mind/psyche of her father...ranging from immense stress and pressure to mental and physical abuse. In the end, it's hard to justify his actions but the book does a great and thorough job of outlining the life of her father and her family.

I'm not a big reader of memoirs or biographies but I did enjoy this. The writing was fresh and clever. Even though this is a "titled" family living (literally) in a castle and on an estate, the stories and their lives were presented in such a way that I could empathize and relate to some of their struggles. I was left feeling close to the family and feeling sorrow at the way things turned out. Moreover, I was left curious for the future and to learn what's happened in the years since her brother became Thane and began working to restore the estate.

4 out of 5 stars

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Golden Eagle said...

It sounds like an interesting book! Especially the part about the family being related to a family in Shakespeare.

Thanks for the review, and thank you for stopping by my blog! :)

Just Wendy said...

What an interesting book. Even more interesting is that you're distantly related!

Think I may have to put A Charmed Life, on my Christmas list.

Nice blog :)