Andrew O'Hagan has created a story that is both a howl against the war in Afghanistan and the societies that have blindly abetted it, and a multilayered, deeply felt tale of family, loss, memory, art, loyalty, secrecy and forgiveness.” Dani Shapiro, The New York Times Book Review
“[The Illuminations] moves with bold, imaginative daring and a troubled intensity between men at war and women with their children, between Scotland and Afghanistan, between photography and fiction, and between memory and secrets . . . The virtuosity of the novel, and also its riskiness, is in the violent contrast between the world of women, families and art, and the world of war . . . [The Illuminations] is using the real world to ask real, difficult and important questions: about how the truth gets reshaped and rearranged, and about whether, under every kind of circumstance, it is possible to be true to yourself.” Hermione Lee, The Guardian
“It's a measure of O'Hagan's compassion that after balancing these stories of war and family - braving the battlefield and braving the passing of time - the ultimate note is hopeful and almost gentle, of something that seems real and vital.” Lucy Daniel, The Telegraph
“[The Illuminations] is immensely generous and wholly committed to conveying the complex intelligence of its large and varied cast of characters. The men and women who meet in these pages are as full of contradictions, and as mysterious to othersand to themselvesas real human beings . . . The novel is at once dramatically plotted and leisurely enough to sustain a series of meditations on consciousness, memory, loyalty, identity, friendship, love, and history . . . The Illuminations misses nothing, and we can be grateful for the energy and the intelligence with which O'Hagan has presented us with the complexity of human consciousness, and has managed to convey both the beauty and the harshness of the world in which his charactersand his readerslive.” Francine Prose, Prospect
“Andrew O'Hagan could well win the Man Booker prize of this, his fifth work of fiction. Myself I'd give The Illuminations two Bookers . . . You could argue (as I would) that only in fiction as good as this will you find war, sex, nationalism and the care of the elderly, truthfully handled. The illuminations is a novel which validates the greatness of fiction in hands as masterly as Andrew O'Hagan. Read it and see what I mean.” John Sutherland, The Times (UK)
“As if it is not enough that Andrew O'Hagan can write like an angel, one has to add that he does it in the style of an intelligent angel.” Norman Mailer on Andrew O'Hagan
“The Illuminations is a natural extension of O'Hagan's earlier work (aided in part by the reappearance of characters from previous novels) but also an elaborate and ambitious departure from it . . . with two Booker Prize-nominations to his name, [O'Hagan] is a skilled yet criminally undervalued storyteller. With luck, this masterful novel will bring him the wider readership he deserves.” Malcolm Forbes, Star Tribune
“The Illuminations is deftly orchestrated and quietly moving . . . This British author is a master of making readers care about all of his characters. Their very flaws draw us into their inner complexity. No reader dares to cast a stone.” Dan Cryer, The San Francisco Chronicle
This empathetic novel from O’Hagan (Our Fathers) revolves around a fictional, largely unknown photographer named Anne Quirk, and Luke, her grandson, who serves in the British Army. Anne suffers from dementia and lives in a retirement community. Luke is serving in Afghanistan, where he listens to death metal, gets stoned, and watches the war tear apart his mentor, Major Scullion. In her youth, Anne was a sharp woman, with a keen eye for beauty in the commonplace. Luke often reminisces on the moments they had together, and the ways she encouraged him to look closely at the world around him. When Luke was 12, she took him to Dunure Harbour, where “they stood holding hands on the jetty, the wind pushing them back as they took great gulps of air. ‘Breathe, Luke!’ she said. ‘You can’t argue with that! Fresh wind off the sea. Oh my. I wish I could catch it with the camera.’ ” As Anne’s memory deteriorates, Luke seeks out details about her life and discovers a life marked by tragedy and self-deceit. O’Hagan sympathetically dissects how falsehoods burrow into daily life; his story provides a deeply felt urge to look more closely at the world and those we love. (Mar.)
The elegant and incisive O'Hagan, a multi-award winner named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists in 2003, tells a story about storytelling and how it must sometimes be blown out of the water. Distinguished documentary photographer Anne Quirk has survived loving a devious man by creating her own ongoing deceptions. But then grandson Luke, a captain in the Royal Western Fusiliers, returns home to Scotland after finding his perceptions of the world wiped clean by the war in Afghanistan. Luke and Anne join forces to investigate a mystery in Anne's past blinking among the Blackpool Illuminations—the glowy artificial lights that bedeck their seaside resort town in darkest winter. Love this author!
The Scottish author's fifth novel (The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe, 2010, etc.) is a lean yet rich family story built of small and crucial moments in memories and reality across three generations. Anne, at 82, has come to a kind of assisted living facility on Scotland's west coast, and her memory has begun drifting. Often she returns to a time in the 1950s when she was a talented photographer and had a child with another shutterbug. When her grandson, Luke, a British army captain fighting in the Afghanistan campaign of recent years, enters the narrative, it shifts from homey prose snapshots to harsh newsreel realism. The contrast recalls a long article by O'Hagan, also a well-regarded essayist, that looks at deaths in the Iraqi campaign and those affected at home; titled "Brothers," it's among the collected nonfiction in The Atlantic Ocean (2013). Anne and Luke have always been close, and he returns after a nightmarish ambush in Afghanistan to help her in the transition to a nursing home. In the process, he discovers long-concealed secrets and sadness tied to another coastal town, Blackpool, which is famous for the annual lighting ceremony that gives the book the literal stratum of its many-layered title. Family pain comes in many forms, including the exclusion Luke's mother feels from the special tie he has with Anne, the very mixed feelings of Anne's ever helpful neighbor toward her own brood when they visit the facility—even Luke's father-brother relations with his fellow soldiers. The story is ripe for sentimentality, but there's a journalistic cast to the spare prose and tight dialogue that helps O'Hagan almost always avoid it. It's remarkable how much human territory O'Hagan explores and illuminates with a restrained style that also helps drive the novel along at a good clip.