Standing one evening at the window of her house by the sea, Anne Quirk sees a rabbit disappearing in the snow. Nobody remembers her now, but this elderly woman was in her youth an artistic pioneer, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain in the British army is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. When his mission goes horribly wrong, he ultimately comes face to face with questions of loyalty and moral responsibility that will continue to haunt him. Once Luke returns home to Scotland, Anne’s secret story begins to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room. There they witness the annual illuminations–the dazzling artificial lights that brighten the seaside resort town as the season turns to winter. (From the Penguin Random House Canada Website)
Imagine a novel about everything. A novel about the past, the present, the future. About time and how quickly it can pass by. A novel about the fine line between love, loss, and hope beyond help. A novel about family and the secrets we harbor to protect ourselves and one another.
“He wanted to help her picture things and put her story together, for him and for her… He wanted to establish her good times.” (247)
I can’t begin to explain what The Illuminations made me feel while I was reading it — a book about everything makes you feel everything. I felt confused and saddened by Anne’s state of mind, but mystified by the stories that she would tell when her mind allowed her to remember. I felt annoyed by Maureen’s need to help a perfect stranger, pitying herself rather than helping her family or letting them into her life. I was tickled by the relationship between Anne and her grandson Luke, what she taught him about life and photography is pure gold. Before the family secrets began to unravel I was less than impressed with Anne’s daughter Alice, but that changed near the end of the novel. And Harry, Anne’s one true love, he was a mystery to me throughout the novel. I’m not quite sure if he deserved Anne but their relationship just goes to show you how powerful hope, faith, and love can be.
The Illuminations is about all of that and so much more. Author Andrew O’Hagan masterfully exposes the secrets to living. He delves into the idea that every life is extraordinary and that everyday things can in fact be wonderful works of art. This is the kind of novel that will have you thinking about your own story, your past, and your goals for the future. The Illuminations will guide its reader into the brightness of the world, if only they dare to open their eyes.
“You’ve got to live a life proportionate to your nature,’ she said. ‘You’ve got to find out what that means and then stick to it.'” (97)
* The Illuminations comes out February 17th, 2015
* Disclosure: I received an ARC of The Illuminations from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.