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A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's…

A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's Castle

by Liza Campbell

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A devastatingly funny portrait of one aristocratic family in modern Britain by the last child to be born at Cawdor Castle, Scotland. Its dark humor was also the one uncomfortable aspect of the book for me, as Campbell savaged her parents in the telling of her story--not that they didn't deserve it--but as the family story isn't one of real abuse, it seemed unnecessarily cruel. It certainly should be read by anyone planning to visit Cawdor, as it is of inestimable value in interpreting those "family" photographs in the castle. ( )
  sallysvenson | Mar 10, 2012 |
There were times that this book was very good but for the most part i felt like the back of the book was better than the book itself. There was a lot of Scottish history, and although I am a history buff, it only served to separate me more from the author. ( )
  ekelly27 | Aug 7, 2011 |
My 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.

3 out of 5 stars ( )
1 vote theokester | Oct 15, 2010 |
I felt the strongest parts of this book were the historical sections, Campbell does a great job of bringing fairly gruesome pieces of history to life and setting them in context.

But this memoir feels like a cartharsis, and vaguely dissatisfying. I suspect it's always difficult to write from the child's view as an adult, particularly as in this case the child was not around her father or the castle for most of the critical elements of the story.

However if she were to write a "history of Scotland" I'd buy it. ( )
  canalrat | Aug 12, 2010 |
Beautifully written story of Lady Elizabeth Campbell, and her totally dysfunctional family growing up in 18 bedroom Cawdor Castle in Scotland. What should be a perfect life was anything but. ( )
  coolmama | Apr 13, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312384963, Paperback)

A Charmed Life tells the story of Liza Campbell, the last child to be born at the impressive and renowned Cawdor Castle, the same locale featured in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It was at the historical ancestral home that Liza’s seemingly idyllic fairytale childhood began to resemble a nightmare.
     Increasingly overwhelmed by his enormous responsibilities, Liza’s father Hugh, the twenty-fifth Thane of Cawdor, tipped into madness fueled by drink, drugs, and extramarital affairs. Over the years, the castle was transformed into an arena of reckless extravagance and terrifying domestic violence, as Liza and her siblings watched their father destroy himself, his family, and their centuries-old legacy.
     Painstakingly honest, thoroughly entertaining, and sharply written, Campbell’s contemporary fairytale tells of growing up as a maiden in a castle where ancient curses and grisly events from centuries ago live on between its stone walls.

“[A] courageous memoir . . . a page turner set among moats, drawbridges, and portcullises both real and metaphorical.” —Vogue
“Superbly written.” —Harper’s Bazaar
“Poignant . . . lovely.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Edged with relentless wit . . . [A Charmed Life is a] nightmarish memoir that gives fiction a run for its money.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Intriguing...[a] highly readable story...extraordinary." —Tucson Citizen

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:37 -0400)

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