The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying

Nina Riggs

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying
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The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying

Nina Riggs

In 2015 poet and writer Nina Riggs was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it metastasised later that year. She was thirty-eight years old, married to the love of her life and the mother of two small boys; her mother had died only a few months earlier from multiple myeloma.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying is Nina’s intimate, unflinching account of ‘living with death in the room'. She tells her story in a series of absurd, poignant and often hilarious vignettes drawn from a life that has ‘no real future or arc left to it, yet still goes on as if it does'.

This unforgettable memoir leads the reader into the innermost chambers of the writer’s life: into the mind and heart, the work and home and family, of a young woman alternately seeking to make peace with and raging against the reality of her approaching death.

Review

‘I’m hoping that writing my way through this new suspicious country will help me figure it all out,’ says Nina Riggs, after she finds out that her breast cancer has spread throughout her body.

In this book, she shares how to live with dire news when you have a career, friendships, a partner and children. Her experiences, written as articles – some of which have been published in various American journals, others that seem to belong only with her family – are passages that can easily tear you apart, with equal dread and admiration. The writing is excellent, poetic in parts (she did teach poetry), and is used as a barrier against the cold, medical language that describes her descent. Riggs’s mother dies of cancer. Her young sons head off to a cancer support camp. Her back hurts. Her doctor remains optimistic and yet we know, yet she knows, that there is only one ending for this story.

There does seem to be an increase in the number of books currently published that deal with recording the last months of life (Riggs died after finishing this book). It has its own title: grief literature. The common thread in memoirs of this type is that we know, as the reader, that the author is uninhibited by loss. This is true of Riggs’s memoir. There are no answers in this book, but there is integrity and wit. You will cry. You will think about her family. And you will consider your own good life. ‘Dying,’ said Riggs’s mother, ‘is not the end of the world’. The Bright Hour is the proof.


Chris Gordon is the Events Manager for Readings.

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