Books for Big Brains: Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour

Every so often we’re sent new books that are written by women. We’ve decided to take advantage of this by publishing short, succinct reviews that give you the lowdown on the quality content found within each book’s pages. These reviews form part of an ongoing series: Books for Big Brains.

How could it get any better, you ask? Well, we want to send YOU the books for FREE. If you’d like to be among the first to get your hands on the latest publications, all you have to do is provide us with your opinion on the book you’re sent in the form of a 200-300 word review. Sound like a sweet deal? Get in touch with us!

Elise Lawrence reviews The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

☆☆☆☆☆

Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying is equally heartbreaking and hilarious. Written with raw honesty, the book follows Nina’s family after her terminal cancer diagnosis, navigating the absurdity and joy of everyday life amidst treatments and impending loss.

I have always been interested in stories that centre on mortality, and the way that we live our lives in the face of death.

Most of us have dealt with family illness and death in some form, but that is something we can often choose to deal with at arm’s length. Nina Riggs brings us a step closer in The Bright Hourinto her house, her family, her marriage, her hospital bed.

The key characters in the novel are Nina and her family—her husband John and their sons Benny and Freddy, her parents and siblings and best friends. Although Nina’s strong, frank voice narrates the memoir in first person, the reader gets a strong sense of the other characters from her descriptions.

The book is split into four ‘stages’, like cancer, and each of these stages is comprised of vignettes, keeping a good pace and beautiful, lyrical flow.

Nina had a beautiful command of language and imagery, and makes use of extensive metaphors, similes, and repetition of key quotes or phrases—it is obvious that she was a poet.

She was, in fact, the great-great-great granddaughter of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and references his writing throughout the book—the book’s title is taken from his journals—although she drew more heavily from the essays of French philosopher Montaigne.

The Bright Hour is difficult to read, but more difficult to put down. It made me laugh and cry simultaneously, and I can’t recall the last book that did that to me.

It is a painful, beautiful reminder that we are all dying, and that it is not something to fear but also not something to forget.

Would you have bought this book for yourself?    

I don’t tend to read memoir that relates to grief or illness, so I may not have bought this book for myself.

That only goes to show me that I need to read more outside my comfort zone, because this book was easily one of the best I have read this year.

What kind of person would you buy this book as a gift for?    

The first person that springs to mind is my own mother, and my female-identifying friends. Nina deals with the femininity complex of a mastectomy, mother-daughter relationships, and the responsibilities and anxiety of leaving motherhood unfinished. Having said that, the book deals primarily with the very human feat of dying, so perhaps it is a book for everyone.

What sort of book would you give a 1 star rating?  

A 1 star book for me has spelling or grammar errors, plots with gaping holes or unsatisfactory loose ends, characters without depth, and/or content that feels like the author is simply being self-indulgent.

What sort of book would you give a 5 star rating?  

A 5 star book for me takes something incredibly complex, like a timeline spanning over generations or the process of grieving, and somehow makes it simple. A 5 star book puts things into words that I could not articulate for myself and clarifies them, like switching on a light.

How many stars would you give this book?

5 stars, without a doubt.


Review and Images by Elise Lawrence (follow her on Facebook and Twitter!)

Edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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