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A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth's Castle

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,058 ratings  ·  202 reviews
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 fairytale life you live.' And I knew they were right, it was a fairytale upbringing. But fairy tales are dark and I had no way of telling either a stranger or a friend what was going on; the ...more
Hardcover, 321 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.28  · 
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 ·  1,058 ratings  ·  202 reviews

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Connie G
May 03, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shakespeare used Cawdor Castle for the scene of the murder of King Duncan by Macbeth. He took some artistic liberties since the castle was not even built at that time. But Cawdor Castle has been the site of other Scottish historical events since it was constructed in 1454.

When author Liza Campbell's grandfather died in 1970, her father Hugh became the 25th Thane of Cawdor. The family moved from a happy home on a Welsh estate to a difficult life in Cawdor Castle. Hugh fell under the spell of alco
May 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
This is a gem of a book! Liza Campbell has written a beautifully composed book of her growing up in Scotland's Cawdor castle (the setting for Macbeth) and the the downward spiral of her father the 25th Thane. This memoir is several years removed from the year of her father's death which lends a mature aspect to her writing. I usually don't read much memoir because sometimes it seems too rushed or lacking in retrospection. Not in this though. The father and his wide appetites for alcohol, women, ...more
Feb 24, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: adults, 2010, book-club
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Don't judge a book by its cover (or title). Extremely well written, i laughed out loud, i was taken by how honest and earnest she wrote about her unconventional upbringing - and despite that related to her embarrassing tales of growing up & having parents. Plus the Scottish history is very interesting (inspired me to read up on my heritage). It's one of those books you can't put down even though you don't want it to end. I hate/love those books! ...more
Part swinging sixties memoir, part family analysis, part literature...but how could you not want to read about living in the Thane's digs? ...more
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 fairytale life you live.” And I knew they were right, it was a fairytale 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.

—Liza Campbell, A Charmed Life

Liza Campbell was the last child born at Cawdor Castle. Her father, Hugh
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I read this book from cover to cover and loved it! But I will be honest and admit that I was distracted through out most of the book. Half my mind would be focused on the castle, mote, drawbridge, arrow slits, murder holes, siege well, dungeon, thick walls and etc. I could not get over the fact that she grew up IN A FREAKING CASTLE! I can only imagine what it would be like to walk through thousands of years of family history while living in a CASTLE.
Yes, I know, the point of the book wasn't real
May 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Again I'm kind of torn between a three and a four but went with the four because I really did enjoy reading this. It really gave a lot of insight into what it's like to be a girl growing up in a family that follows male primogeniture who is older than the heir. It definitely shows that the arbitrariness of that kind of system can lead to a family's ruin. And Campbell also shows that growing up in such a family can really lead one to be a bit ignorant of the social norms of the dominant culture.

Melody Scott
Dec 07, 2011 rated it liked it
At first, I admit, I found myself thinking, "What do I care about the life of this privileged young Scottish girl?"

She goes to private school, lives in a fine home, her grandfather is Thane of Cawdor (being a theatre freak, this was the most interesting part to me and why I picked up the book), and her family vacations at Cawdor Castle, MacBeth's home.

Of course, her father is a drunken philanderer who sleeps with all her nannies and anyone else he can lure, and her mother is a long-suffering, up
Jun 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very well written. The author has a great sense of humor dis spite the harsh realities of her upbring. The details she uses draw a very clear picture for the reader.
This is probably one of the most sensational biographies that I've read it a long time, and the only thing I can closely compare it with would be Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle, but really only in terms of subject matter.

Liza is unapologetic about her history in this book; she is the second daughter of the 25th Thane of Cawdor, her family having inherited the title in 1295, and her father was an alcoholic-cocaine addicted-borderline schizophrenic. She also has the distinction of being the last
This is Liza Campbell's autobiography and she is mainly writing about her father. He is a total pig; maybe he didn't start out that way. In the beginning he is eccentric (in that way of British nobility) and casually cruel. He is married to a very nice woman who loves him. She has five children with him and he becomes more and more difficult. He is an alcoholic and a drug user, he is nearly always committing adultery. His wife becomes a shell of a woman; only maintained by her good manners and b ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The compelling story of growing up with a father who had wit, charm, money, estates and, to his detriment, became the 25th Thane of Cawdor on the death of his father. Things went badly once the family moved to Cawdor Castle in Scotland. Hugh ended up betraying everyone in his life and died of drink, drugs and the effects of bipolar disorder at the age of 60. This is a story of the 1960s and 1970s as well, though Liza makes it clear that up in the wilds of Scotland the children were still dancing ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
Oh where to begin. The premise of the book sounded wonderful, I just did not like the execution. I felt as if the various persons in the book did not really come to life, and never really fully vested. I was a bit bored reading the book, which is a shame given that the story of the eccentric (to put it mildly) 25th Thane of Cawdor could make for a fascinating and interesting read. The author states in the beginning that she wrote the book to give her father the comeuppance that he never received ...more
Harriet Evans
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
I love a book where you absolutely don't know what's coming next. This is so much more than aristo memoir. It's so moving tragic sharp compelling utterly crazy. Am loving it. ...more
Mary K
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 23, 2009 rated it liked it
The author of this book wants you to know right off the bat that MacBeth was slandered. He was actually a fair and beloved king. Unfortunately, he appears to have been the exception rather than the rule in a family with plenty of murderous insanity to go around culminating in her childhood spent with a father who was unfit to use one of the kindest words possible.

Campbell would make an excellent dinner party guest. She's full of witty asides. On the subject of her family's castle's longevity:
Nov 12, 2012 rated it liked it
I loved Cawdor castle when I visited it in 2000 and have often thought I would like to return. What was it that I liked? To me it felt welcoming and homey. Yes, it was a lived in castle but after reading this book and soap opera that was life in Cawdor castle I wonder how I could have had that feeling. A Charmed Life is, to quote a reviewer, a "unique non-fiction story written by the last child to be born in Cawdor Castle in Scotland. The author does a supurb job of weaving Scottish history and ...more
Suzanne Skelly
May 21, 2011 rated it liked it
A unique non-fiction story written by the last child to be born in Cawdor Castle in Scotland. The author does a supurb job of weaving Scottish history and the historic properties of land ownership/inheritance with the modern world. A true story of one of Scotland's more important families historically as it move thru time- not ever learning how to work for a living in the bigger world, but learning of the responsibilites and burdebs of maintaining massive estates with no learned skill sets to do ...more
Nov 25, 2007 rated it liked it
I'm still reading this book--I'm enjoying it but it's a bit flowery & could use a stricter editor in bits...she's overly sentimental in paragraphs that I'd have cut out of the novel all together. I've found I can become quite bored & distracted with the over-done depictions & descriptions--she goes too far in some passages with imagery & details (hence "flowery") & you learn all-to-quickly whom the author intends for you to love & despise..(this is the main problem, in my opinion, is just what d ...more
Dec 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
Very well written, but a little boring. The historical pieces are great.

In the prologue, Campbell tells of a writer-friend telling her: "You must be sure of your underlying sentence...If the reader senses a firm foundation, they will trust digressions, but if they sense confusion, they will lose confidence in why they are reading." I think this is where the book fell short - I found myself often thinking, "Is this about the history of the Campbell clan? About her childhood? About her father?" T
Feb 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Liza Campbell's memoir of her childhood is well-written, interesting, and really, really depressing. It's not really the story of growing up in the castle - it's the story of growing up as the daughter of her bitter, angry, addiction-riddled father.

The author tries to come to terms with the total train-wreck of her family life. The book is really well-done, but I found it almost unbearable to read. It took weeks to get through. Many will find it fascinating, but it was too much misery for me.
Feb 20, 2009 rated it did not like it
I was drawn to this book because of the Shakespeare connection, and while the bits of history about the Thanes of Cawdor were quite interesting, they were drowned out by the author's sob-story / parental anger issues. In fact, it became so wearisome that I stopped reading after pg 140 (of 320). I don't recommend this one. ...more
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-realzies
A wonderfully written book where the author pulls no punches and exposes her family's dark secrets and pain. ...more
Mar 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Fascinating. Such tragedy that Shakespeare himself would be jealous.
If nothing else, a reminder that a title and a castle do not a happy ending make: Campbell had both, as a childhood, but she also had an increasingly volatile father and an uncertain future: there was no expectation that she'd get an advanced education, but also no provision for her in her father's will; the expectation was that she'd use her looks and her family background to marry 'well', and that would be that. It sounds like a terribly strange childhood, albeit one it took Campbell some time ...more
Jun 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I chose this book as part of my 2021 book challenge to read a memoir in June. I’ve had this book for sometime and just never got around to reading it and having finished it I now wonder why I put it off. This was a beautifully written and heartfelt story of a young girl growing into a woman trying to make peace with and gain understanding of the perplexing and bewildering figure her father had become in the last ten years before his death. Campbell’s book is filled with lots of history about Caw ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I'm not really sure what to say about this book. It was a quick read. It was also a weird mix of family history and personal account. By weird, I guess I mean a bit fluffy-sounding, especially given the horror that percolates underneath the prose. Hugh Campbell was a raging, often abusive alcoholic, yet the author seems to soft-pedal a lot of his behavior, writing around rather than through it. It makes the reader wonder if there wasn't more going on than she can or wants to admit. Since her fat ...more
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Liza Campbell was the last child born in the renowned Cawdor Castle and grew up in Wales and Scotland, having an idyllic, if quirky, childhood. The family had a holly tree growing in a room in their home as an ancient talisman, leading Campbell to misunderstand the meaning of the term “family tree.” The book is filled with those kind of funny stories, fascinating bits of local lore and Scotch history. It’s all rather lovely until her father becomes the 25th Thane of Cawdor as a young man and sta ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
This was less a memoir about growing up in Macbeth's castle, and more a memoir about an intermittently cruel, charming, tyrannical, generous, alcoholic and abusive father. It was often hard going to read the cruel things he did to his children and his wife while still somehow retaining more or less of their devotion. Luckily, it was made slightly easier going by being interspersed with details of a unique and interesting childhood and a smattering of Scottish history. I especially loved the auth ...more
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