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The Organist - Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind

The Organist

Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mind

Hardcover : 9780889775817, 312 pages, January 2019
Paperback : 9780889777613, 304 pages, June 2020


Harry Abley was a nightmare of a father: depressive, self-absorbed, unpredictable, emotionally unstable. He was also a dream of a father: gentle, courageous, artistically gifted. Mark Abley, his only child, grew up in the shadow of music and mental illness. How he came to terms with this divided legacy, and how he learned to be a man in the absence of a traditional masculine role model, are central to this beautifully written memoir.  

This extraordinary story will speak to all those who love music, who struggle with depression, or who wrestle with the difficult bonds of love between a parent and a child.  

Praise for The Organist:

"A wise and haunting book. " —Martha Baillie, author of The Search for Heinrich Schlögel

"The Organist is a rich and wonderful book, a deeply insightful and moving story of a family’s journey through the 20th century…. Abley’s tale is fearless in its revelations, yet also loving, funny, and beautifully told. ” —Ronald Wright, author of A Scientific Romance and A Short History of Progress

“'What does a life add up to?' This question is central to Mark Abley’s haunting family memoir, The Organist. Both expansive in the themes it raises and intimate in details required to bring those themes to life, it’s a question that draws on Abley’s talents as a remarkably clear and thoughtful writer. In The Organist, he ventures bravely into territory that is, for almost everyone, mysterious: what our parents were like before we, their children, became (so we like to imagine) central to their lives. What this compelling book makes clear is that what we don’t know about them is often what we don’t know about ourselves. " —David Macfarlane, author of The Danger Tree 

“Beautiful, tender, and raging, The Organist comes from where the best writing usually does—deep emotion affirmed by hard-won experience of how humans are in their relationships, and in their own hearts. It has taken Mark Abley nearly a lifetime to produce the book of his life. Not a moment too late, or too soon” —Charles Foran, author of Mordecai: The Life & Times


"A keenly observed, often elegant accounting of the transformative power of art and the limits of knowing others, even—or perhaps especially—those we feel we should know best. " —Toronto Star
“The Organist’s intimate scale and unstinting, probing honesty give it what should prove to be…lasting appeal. ”—Maclean’s

“[A] remarkably transparent record of a writer’s lifelong efforts to understand and love his male parent. ” —Literary Review of Canada

“A memoir that probes the intimate relationship between depression and the arts. ” —The Globe and Mail

"[A] master class in the delicate art of writing about family. " —Montreal Gazette

"A fascinating and often beautiful portrait of the fragile psyche of a talented musician. " —BBC Music Magazine