The ending of The Music Room felt so different from actually reading the memoir. The time span of Fiennes’ recollections ends with his own departure from his home after completing the British version of high school. A short, final section wraps up loose ends. In a way.
It is difficult to know the entire story of Fiennes’ relationship with his epileptic brother Richard. Fiennes bounces between memories of his home and those of his brother (both good and bad) and sections of excellently detailed research on epilepsy.
I think I learned more about epilepsy than I did about Fiennes and his brother.
Many writers – memoirists especially – use writing as a way to work out issues. Laid on paper in black and white, the messiest familial relationship can become manageable. The memoir feels like Fiennes is working out his childhood misunderstanding of his brother’s disease and the resultant bitter taste in his mouth at the memories that left him frustrated.
Fiennes mentions once or twice how, as a child, he did not always comprehend that his brother’s behaviour (can I be a bit British today?) was a medical condition. The same lesions that sat on Richard’s brain, inducing seizures, also affected how he acted and reacted to those around him. The Music Room is Fiennes’ attempt to forgive his brother and himself.
Part of what makes the memoir difficult to grasp is also what makes it beautiful. Fiennes is a poet deep down and he can conjure such a landscape that I look up from the page confused that I don’t see the moat or the heron. The sections about epilepsy were very fine: exact and clear and distilling.
Fiennes moves through time effortlessly, making use of anecdotes and memories as their own sections to reveal something or sometimes only hint at something. It is this very conceit that makes following the through line complicated.
I am a very linear person and I try to accept nonlinear things. That is why I enjoyed reading the book – every page had something beautiful. That is also why, now that the final page has been turned, I find it difficult to summarize and explain.
I may not know everything Fiennes was reaching for but I know he wanted to show his childhood, revisit his brother, and try to understand it all. The Music Room is a lovely journey to take.