The Illuminations

Overview

An arresting story of myth and memory from an acclaimed British novelist

Anne Quirk's life is built on stories--both the lies she was told by the man she loved and the fictions she told herself to survive. Nobody remembers Anne now, but this elderly woman was an artistic pioneer in her youth, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson Luke, now a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers in the British army, has ...

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The Illuminations

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Overview

An arresting story of myth and memory from an acclaimed British novelist

Anne Quirk's life is built on stories--both the lies she was told by the man she loved and the fictions she told herself to survive. Nobody remembers Anne now, but this elderly woman was an artistic pioneer in her youth, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson Luke, now a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers in the British army, has inherited her habit of transforming reality. When Luke's mission in Afghanistan goes horribly wrong, his vision of life is distorted and he is forced to see the world anew.
Once Luke returns to Scotland, the secrets and lies that have shaped generations of his family begin to emerge as he and Anne set out to confront a mystery from her past among the Blackpool Illuminations--the dazzling artificial lights that brighten the seaside resort town as the season turns to winter.
The Illuminations, the fifth novel from Andrew O'Hagan, "a novelist of astonishingly assured gifts" (The New York Times Book Review), is a beautiful, deeply charged story that reveals that no matter how we look at it, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Dani Shapiro
The literature of war is by its very nature political. If a writer's sentences are personal—what else, really, can they be?—and a writer has trained his lens on a bloody battleground, in reading him we will come to know where he stands, where his passions lie. When it comes to fiction, this passion can often result in rhetoric-spouting characters whose sole purpose is to service the author's ideas. But in The Illuminations…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.
Publishers Weekly
01/26/2015
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 Guardian Hermione Lee

"[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."
Prospect Francine Prose

"[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 others--and to themselves--as 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 characters--and his readers--live."
Norman Mailer

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.
The New York Times Book Review - Dani Shapiro

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.
The Telegraph - Lucy Daniel

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.
The New York Times (UK) - John Sutherland

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.
Norman Mailer on Andrew O'Hagan

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.
From the Publisher

Praise for The Illuminations

"[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

"[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 others—and to themselves—as 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 characters—and his readers—live." —Francine Prose, Prospect

Praise for Andrew O’Hagan

“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

Library Journal
10/01/2014
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!
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-12-17
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.
From the Publisher
"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." —-Kirkus Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374174569
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/24/2015
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 218,355
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew O'Hagan

Andrew O'Hagan is one of Britain's most exciting and serious contemporary writers. He has twice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. He was voted one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists in 2003. He has won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in London.
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