The Music Room, By William Fiennes

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The Independent Culture

It was for his observation of the pattern of migratory birds in the award-winning The Snow Geese (2002), and for its insight into the theme of human belonging as well as the titular birds, that William Fiennes gained his reputation. Conversely, his latest memoir, concerned this time with humans (specifically, Fiennes's elder brother Rich's struggle with epilepsy), is rich in descriptions of nature. He strikes upon truth when he reaches it obliquely.

The Fiennes family lived on a grand estate, passed down by ancestors since the 14th century, and where guests included Ian McKellen, Jane Seymour and Eric Morecambe. But illness privileges no one. Fiennes grew up with absent presences, such as the framed photograph of a young boy – the brother who died in an accident two years before William was born. "We are rich in what we have lost," says his mother when Rich finally dies.

Fiennes' forte is for minutely detailing the exterior world. This memoir begins by assiduously chronicling material wealth in cavernous country rooms. But it grows movingly towards an understated understanding of inner wealth, in the form of abundant love and patience.