Home > Books > View

The Organist by Mark Abley

Finalist for The Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction in 2019


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.


An airline ticket to romantic places; a broken nose. A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces; a touch on a son’s hand. A lick on a grandchild’s cheek. The scent of pipe tobacco. A clutch of names: Harry Knight, Pte. H.T. Abley 173646, Bunny Hunch, Henry T. Abley, Nubbo, abababley. Anger, prejudice, resentment, doubt, migraines – all gone now, over and done with, vanished. Generosity, kindness, loyalty, exemplary clarity – also vanished. The care with which he battled to comb strands of hair over an ever-growing bald patch. A widow: her memories of touch. Good times. The filmy surface of his eyes as death drew near. These fragments I have shored against my ruin. A son: also moody, also self-absorbed, also bad at dancing; a look in my eyes, the cast of my mouth, the same as his. A son whose slim fingers also interpret the world on a keyboard, crying out to a silent room: “What am I doing?”

I ask you.

Click here to search for this book at the Atwater Library.





University of Regina Press