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Nocturne: On the Life and Death of My Brother

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  239 ratings  ·  66 reviews
Helen Humphreys’ younger brother was gone before she could come to terms with the fact that he had terminal cancer. Diagnosed with stage 4B pancreatic cancer at the age of forty-five, he died four months later, leaving behind a grieving family. Martin was an extraordinary pianist who debuted at the Royal Festival Hall in London at the age of twenty, later becoming a piano ...more
ebook, 208 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Phyllis Bruce Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  239 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Vikki VanSickle
This was a luminous memoir about the life and death of Helen Humphrey's brother, a virtuoso pianist who died of cancer at 45. This slight novel packs huge emotional impact and is divided into 45 sections, one for each year of Martin's life. This is the kind of book that requires silence while reading. I could not read it on the subway or waiting in line, it was something I needed to savour in my reading chair or in bed at night. It is very sad at times, but there are also moments of joy. Humphre ...more
Aug 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This lovely book is not a memoir; it's a tribute to the author's late brother, and it reads like a series of small conversations with him. Near the end of the book, she explains that she decided on 45 chapters, one for each year of his life. Some are as short as a couple of lines, but all are meaningful.

Her grief is palpable throughout the book. The sense of loss, of a life cut too short by invasive cancer, is so touching that at times I cried along with her.
When she described sitting at a windo
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is superb - one of those books you wish you hadn't read, just so that you could have the pleasure of rediscovering it.

This is a very moving, beautifully (and deceptively simply) written memoir of the author's late brother; a reflection on his life, on her sense of loss, and on the fragility of the moment. You will cry.

Highly recommended.
May 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A very moving memoir and testament to the life and untimely death (at 45 from pancreatic cancer) of author Helen Humphreys's brother, Martin, a concert pianist and composer. This is not an easy read. The sensitive observations of the world after one who is deeply loved has died remind readers of the rawness of their own grief. A painfully beautiful book.
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful writing and a very touching book! Yes it's a memoir about the author brother death, and so it can be seen has a very personal book, but I found the experience to be very well «generalize» so it isn't anymore about her personal grief, but about grief and passing on in general, something we'll all get through somehow one day or another. It isn't a happy read but not a depressive eon either, just a very well made reflexion on the matter. Big surprise and I highly recommend it!
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
I rarely give books five stars, but I think this one deserves it. This slim book is the author's poetic and beautiful reaction to her brother's death at the age of 45. There are 45 chapters in the book. Helen Humphreys details how her brother died, what has happened since, and talks about many instances of their life together. This is a raw book about grief, and the way grief can influence how a person sees the world. It is about sibling love and how life is both beautiful and terrible.I also ap ...more
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful winding, nostalgic memoir of grief. Helen Humphreys' younger brother, a piano prodigy, was struck with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She struggles, through her poetic writing, to come to terms with his untimely death. This book is a testament to her love and gratitude for her brother Martin, she both admired and mentored.
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had the privilege of knowing Martin as a friend. It is not everyone who has a gifted writer as a sister, one who is able to pay tribute to a life in a way that moves and touches many readers who never knew him.
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. Terribly sad. Incredibly written. Heartwrenching. Read it.
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In this small miracle of a book, Helen shares the letters she wrote to her brother after his untimely death at 45. A classical pianist who was a young prodigy and with whom she grew up artistically, he was taken too young by cancer diagnosed too late.

This is a heartache of a book that details the indignities and unconscious cruelties visited on the grieving: the bargaining for a cheaper price when she was trying to sell her brother’s car, the long delay at the MTO, the doctors’ clumsy metaphors
Aban (Aby)
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful book; my thanks to Alexis for reviewing it. Helen Humphreys writes with great love and longing for her younger brother, Martin - a gifted pianist, who died of cancer at a young age. It was a relatively short period of time from the diagnosis to Martin's death, and it left Helen reeling. She addresses the book to Martin and interweaves accounts of his last days with reminiscences of their time together as children, teens, and adults. Her writing is elegiac and reveals Martin a ...more
Erika Nerdypants
I will read anything Humphreys writes for the sheer beauty of language she brings to the page, and this slim little memoir on grieving the death of her beloved brother is no exception. You would think a book about such a heavy subject matter would be difficult to read, but not so. Luminous, with exquisite sentences strung together to make paragraphs that leap off the page, it is written as a letter to her brother. This is not a sentimental piece of work, there is an acuteness and clarity to her ...more
Amanda Bolderston
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
A moving account of Helen Humphrey's brother's life and death - encompassing his career as a pianist, her writing and their lives in the UK, Kingston, Toronto and Vancouver. She writes about the legacy of grief, that she is now "brought to my knees anytime something bad happens to a person or a creature that I love. I can't stop myself from fearing the worst, because the worst has happened."
She is always a wonderful writer and this short book is a sad and elegiac tribute as well as a vivid portr
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving this 5 stars because a) Helen Humphreys is an excellent writer and b) how can you possibly rate someone's grief? A fascinating homage of a talented pianist who died too young (at the age of 45 from pancreatic cancer) by his sister. It doesn't get much more personal than this, folks. I applaud Humphreys for her courage in tackling such a painful subject. Her touching portrayal of a brother who obviously means the world to her moved me to tears. Each of us would be lucky, indeed, to hav ...more
Patricia Post
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is Helen Humphreys' beautiful and simply profound memoir about the mid-life loss of her beloved brother, concert pianist Martin Humphreys.
From a grief experience most of us could only say is 'too deep for words,' this author has listened deep, created those words, and generously shared her experience in clear, honest prose. It is a remarkable, soul-enriching gift to anyone who has lost someone they love.
Stephen Owens
Helen Humphreya' delicate and insightful memoir about her brother, Martin, gave me language to express my feelings about the deaths of my much loved and respected mother and kid brother. They died one year to the day apart. Did not realize how permanently teardrops become fastened to a page. Thank you Helen and Martin.
May 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Terribly sad. Terribly beautiful. This will make you cry.
Tamara Taylor
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018

This memoir of the grief following the death of the author's brother is tender, sweet, visceral and haunting. She oscillates between tender childhood memories and raw, gritty details about incisions and piss bags. There are stunning sections of poetic beauty and chapters recounting the sheer horror of end-of-life realities. Humphreys captures every nuance of the torrential pain that accompanies grief. This is poetry for the broken, ragged s
Zachary Keesey
Jan 27, 2019 rated it liked it
"I even wrote a line at your hospital bedside, as you lay dying, because two ideas occurred to me in that moment and I wanted to remember them. The first was just the very simple fact that, in the end, you can step out the room or you can't. That is what separates the living from the dying, that one small, enormous action. The second is the poignant truth of the flesh we live inside, that in the end the body leaks or it holds." (p. 24)
A powerful, echoing little book. Some really beautiful bits that hit you like a punch to the gut. Even the occasional awkward moments just make everything that much more poignant.
Apr 09, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. A very personal reflection on the life and loss of her brother. Beautifully written, but I almost felt uncomfortable at times because it was such an individual and personal account.
Wendy Lovatt
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really liked the openness of the author's thoughts and feelings about both her brother's life and death. A lovely writing style too.
❀ Susan G
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads

“Were you made in part by the music you played? And if so, the when you died, the silence we were left with was that the same silence that exists in a concert hall the moment the music stops – a silence that still tastes of the sound that it carried.”

Nocturne is a heartfelt, intensely personal book written by Helen Humphrey’s addressing her late brother, Martin. The pain of losing her brother, the comfort of memories, his music and the importance of suppor
David Hallman
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Parallels in Grief

I have a complicated relationship with Canadian poet and novelist Helen Humphreys’ poignant memoir Nocturne – On the Life and Death of My Brother.

I met Humphreys at a literary event and we had a conversation about the parallels in our lives:
• She lost her brother to pancreatic cancer;
• I lost my long-term partner Bill to pancreatic cancer; I also know the grief of losing a brother – my brother (we were only thirteen months apart in age) committed suicide in the same year that
Alexander Kosoris
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
A nocturne is a musical composition, inspired by or evocative of the night. In its most familiar form, it is a single-movement character piece written for solo piano. With that description, it’s not difficult to see how fitting the title for Helen Humphreys’ memoir truly is, both channelling the spirit of the story, as well as its subject.

The ebb and flow between Humphreys’ disjointed memories regarding her brother is almost musical in its own right. Despite the vivid pictures the author paints,
Jun 25, 2015 added it
I have mightily enjoyed several of Helen Humphreys' novels, notably The Reinvention of Love and Coventry. This is a memoir of her beloved brother Martin, a concert pianist who died of a galloping cancer at the age of 45. I can see why she felt the need to write the book (it's dedicated to her sister, who shared her love for their brother), but I think perhaps she shouldn't have sent it out to the world.

While some parts of the book are very moving, others are intensely irritating. It's hard to pu
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I started reading this book almost a year ago, according to Goodreads, though I think I started it when I met Helen at the Sage Hill Writing workshop in the summer of 2014. So, after almost 2 years, I have finally finished it.

It is, of course, a very small book, just tickling at 200 pages without reaching it. But it is a gut punch, and one that I felt, for some reason, was best read sporadically, in small bursts of some 20 pages at a time, spanned between months. While I keep taking books down f
Sep 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this book by coincidence. I was looking through a bookshelf at the local bookstore, just wandering, because I didn't want to go home. I just came from mom's funeral and I didn't want to return to my empty house. She died of the same cancer as Martin, the brother to whom Humphreys narrates this book. Her voice in the book is talking directly to her late brother. I relate to that action.

Still, I did not, overall, enjoy this book. There are some paragraphs that are well-written, and that r
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In lamenting the loss of her younger brother, Martin, Helen Humphreys lays bare her own frailties as she recounts the process of his dying and early death. In trying to understand loss and its ramifications, this accomplished writer has created a memorial that commemorates not only her sibling alone, but their shared intimacy and love of creativity. Humphrey's bereavement has rewarded us with a tiny gem of a book that allows all of us to know that in our own separate sorrows, we are not alone. " ...more
Deanna McFadden
May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Helen Humphreys remains a Canadian treasure--this was a moving, eloquent, and studied expression of the writer's relationship to her brother, and the lost she felt when he passed away from cancer. The book focussed on her grief, and did not delve into how his loss might have left his lovers, or their parents, and I appreciated this perspective greatly. How we deal with the loss of a loved one is so particular to how we related to them in life--and to have Humphreys look so closely at her own los ...more
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Helen Humphreys is the author of four books of poetry, five novels, and one work of creative non-fiction. She was born in Kingston-on-Thames, England, and now lives in Kingston, Ontario with her dog, Hazel.

Her first novel, Leaving Earth (1997), won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her second novel, Afterimage (2000), won the 2000 Rogers Writers
“I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to.” 0 likes
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