Outrageous Fortune: Growing Up at Leeds Castle
November 26, 2013
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". . . life lessons with unflinching honesty."
Anthony Russell sums up his formative years thoroughly and succinctly to a school friend when he says, “It’s like being in a cocoon where every conceivable luxury is provided but no one knows you’re there.” In Russell’s memoir Outrageous Fortune, the reader is introduced to the “Castle Way”—a uniquely antique mode of living and interacting with others established by the author’s maternal grandmother, Lady Baillie, then owner of Leeds Castle. For the 99% of humanity who will never experience living in such opulence, the Castle Way is portrayed in both amusing and terrifying terms.
From a very young age, the sensitive and artistic Russell senses somehow his life is far from complete, and that the rest of the world operates on a very different plain indeed. But how is a rich boy to learn the truth of reality in such privileged isolation? Many of the adult role models Russell is exposed to while maturing in the 1950s and 60s practice verbal cruelty across the dinner table, mirroring a deeply unhappy, emotionally-stunted existence filled with excessive drinking and smoking. The few positive role models Russell witnesses he never can quite recruit as mentors, as the Castle Way leaves little room for making connections of a sentimental kind.
Through a rambling and occasionally confusing time line, the reader experiences Russell’s overwhelming feelings of loneliness and loss, particularly when he loses his fun-loving brother James in an automobile accident. Contrasting this melancholy are vivid descriptions of beautiful Leeds Castle and the differing personalities who dwelled within its walls. Fortunate indeed for the reader, the author courageously shares his life lessons with unflinching honesty.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews