Excerpt from The Music Room by William Fiennes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Music Room

A Memoir

by William Fiennes

The Music Room
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 224 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Women in beauty spots and creamy pompadour wigs glide across the stone floor; Richard Chamberlain as Prince Charming kneels to fit the twinkling slipper; a stuntman in plumed tricorne hat and breeches leaps off the gatehouse onto a crashpad of cardboard boxes and foam. The rooms smell of dry ice and Elnett hairspray; extras dressed as monks eat corn flakes at the Dining Room table; Oliver Cromwell's warts are Rice Krispies painted brown and glued to his cheek and nose; the moat's deemed too placid to pass for the Thames so big pipes gush out of shot to ruffle the surface as Henry VIII's royal barge steers into view. One morning I found twenty human skeletons gathered on the lawn, each hanging by the skull from a slender metal stand so it appeared to be standing upright, the skeletons clustered in small groups as if I'd come across them at a garden party.

Then actual men arrived and picked up the skeletons one by one, carrying them under their arms into the Great Hall like their own inner structures. These invasions brought the allure of make-believe and fired a boy's delight in gadgets and hardware, as if the camera tracks, cranes and trolleys, the hydraulic platforms that slid up and down the backs of prop vans, the walkie-talkies and grey-sleeved sound booms were versions of Scalextric, Meccano and Action Man equipment I'd yet to have the pleasure of. I climbed onto the deep window ledges in the Great Hall and crouched behind eighteenth-century leather fire buckets to watch swordfights from Joseph Andrews and The Scarlet Pimpernel, the actors in loose white shirts and gold-buckled shoes surging back and forth like dancers across the bare stone floor. They spent hours on the same sequence and I learned all the moves of the routine, the feints, parries, lunges, narrow escapes and exchanges of advantage, each time willing the less-gifted swordsman to buck his fate and fight back with a rage the choreographer had never sanctioned.

Sometimes my attention drifted, the swordplay a backdrop of percussive cutlass sounds until the blades struck sparks off each other and I was gripped again. Usually there were Civil War pikes, halberds and spontoons in here; a black cast-iron doorstop shaped like an elephant; huge logs heaped in the fireplace with bellows, andirons and Victorian copper bedpans leaning on either side; and a gamut of swords – Mameluke short swords, Pappenheimer rapiers, plain and basket-hilt broadswords – fixed to the bare stone walls.

In January 1938, the Trustees of the Natural History Museum in London had directed the keepers of departments to consider how to protect their collections in the event of aerial attack. The keepers drew up lists of specimens and documents to be evacuated in case of war, and by the beginning of the bombing of London in August 1940 the Great Hall had become a warehouse for fifty-four green and white super-cabinets of mammals, thirty-eight boxes of mollusca and six hundred and sixty-two bundles of books and papers (arranged in pressmark order, so they could be referred to if necessary) stacked one on top of the other, among them the stuffed or mounted skins of lion, snow leopard, spotted hyena, polar bear, wolf, sea lion, bushpig, Weddell seal, wallaby and pygmy hog. So I walked across the room imagining crates stacked to the ceiling, animals coming alive at night and forcing the lids. I learned to ride a bicycle in the Great Hall. My mother wiped down the wheels on the carpet's behalf and I rode circles round refectory tables and crimson plush sofas, off the wool kerb onto smooth flagstones, while Mum used WD40 to condition suits of armour and visored helmets called burgonets, and rubbed beeswax polish into the oak shoulders of blunderbusses and muskets displayed among the swords.

For my parents those film-crew days were a mixed blessing. The house needed the money but they watched anxiously as strangers lugged sharp-cornered gear through medieval doorways and leaned spiky lighting rigs against Tudor panelling. Dad haunts the sets like the house's guardian spirit, vigilant for carelessness. It's as if his nervous system spreads through the whole building, so that a slammed door or a pewter bowl set down too briskly hurts him as keenly as a cut on the arm.

Excerpted from The Music Room by William Fiennes. Copyright 2009 by William Fiennes. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    by Bryn Greenwood
    Bryn Greenwood's debut, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, is a harsh, raw, and ultimately, truthful...
  • Book Jacket: Hot Milk
    Hot Milk
    by Deborah Levy
    When people reach their early 20s, they often choose to go abroad – they want to get away from...
  • Book Jacket: Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    by Joy Williams
    I have to preface this review by saying that I am not a fan of religious fiction - not even books ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Underground Airlines
    by Ben Winters

    "The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller." - PW Star

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Ashes of Fiery Weather
    by Kathleen Donohoe

    "Admirers of Pete Hamill and Kate Atkinson will appreciate this gripping novel." - Library Journal

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain

An intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.