Jul 17, 2008
NON-FICTION BOOK REVIEW # 1
I was hooked by the title of Liza Campbell’s book, A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle, as well as the picture on the cover. The brief introduction written by Campbell on the inside flap of the book reinforces the image on the cover of Campbell growing up in an unusual situation. Campbell writes, “We grew up with the same parents in the same castle, but in many ways we each had a moat around us. Sometimes when visitors came they would say, ‘You are such lucky children; it’s a fairy-tale life you live.’ And I knew they were right, it was a fairy-tale upbringing. But fairy tales are dark and I had no way of telling either a stranger or a friend what was going on; the abnormal became ordinary.”
Unfortunately, I had no way of knowing that Campbell’s memoir never goes deeper into her story than the words on the book flap. Campbell writes about her family members as if she is peering at them from a distance—there is never a feeling that she is connected with any of them either physically or emotionally. She delivers information about her family’s history, and how the castles came into the family, interspersed with the occasional telling of a particular family situation. However, those situations are never anchored with enough information to create a bigger picture of exactly what is going on at the time. She tells us that her father has affairs. She tells us that he drinks. She tells us that she asked him, when she was a little girl, if he would stop drinking. She tells us that their life is unusual and painful. Therein lies the problem—she tells us but never convinces us.
Sure, growing up in a castle and knowing who your family members are 25 generations back is unusual. But Campbell never convinces me that her childhood, or her relationship with her family, was dark or even all that abnormal. She never truly opens up and reveals herself or her family--her examinations of particular incidents she writes about are cursory, at best. Is it because she’s Scottish and reluctant to let it all hang out? Or is it something else? I suspect that Campbell’s inability to write a moving account of her unusual family and her childhood is because she is too close to the story. It’s her story, but in the hands of a master storyteller, it might have been better.