The allure of Scottish history and legend woven through a tragic modern life.
Granted, it’s not and never was actually Macbeth’s castle: That lure for the unwary is based solely on Shakespeare’s warping of a careless chronicler’s embellishments on the life of an 11th-century Scottish king who died 300 years before the first stone was laid at Cawdor Castle, near Inverness. “The Fall of the House of Cawdor” would be an apt replacement subtitle, and one for which the author would not have to excuse any overstatement. Campbell’s memoir begins at her family’s estate in Wales, then moves to the chill and forbidding Scottish castle she would come to love. Edged with relentless wit, it unravels the life of her father, the 25th Thane of Cawdor (6th Earl of same), Hugh John Vaughan Campbell. Liza and her four siblings, including younger brother Colin, sole Cawdor heir per the British peerage’s practice of primogeniture, witnessed the gradual degeneration of their father’s marriage, his estate, his sanity and his health. Early on, his antics seemed merely Pythonesque: chasing anything in skirts, constantly drinking, especially while driving, and serially wrecking expensive cars. It was all quite puzzling to the kids, whose face time with Dad consisted mainly of humorous jabs inevitably followed by a sarcastic right cross. Only in his letters to Liza at school did a gentle, loving father occasionally reveal himself. Most of the time, though, he was a monster: At one hideous moment, he drunkenly orders her into his bed for what seems to be shaping up as an incestuous liaison until he passed out. On cocaine, it turns out, he drove his wife from their marriage and, prior to his 1990 death at 60 from cancer and a compromised immune system, secretly disinherited his son, effectively terminating forever the family’s cherished “title deed.”
Nightmarish memoir that gives fiction a run for its money.