The Illuminations

illuminationsThe Illuminations
by Andrew O’Hagan
2014 / 305 pages
rating – 8 / contemp. fiction

Typical contemporary fiction with the frame in today’s world and the interior story (at least one of them) far enough in the past to consider that part to be historical fiction.  In this case Anne, an elderly woman living in a senior home in southern Scotland  is having a few more problems with dementia and her daughter is not much help at all.  Only a kindly neighbor and Anne’s grandson,  a recent returned veteran from Afghanistan, can get through to her.  Maureen the neighbor and Luke the grandson have their own issues which give texture to the narrative.   Luke is trying to forget his crude and violent past while his grandmother is trying to remember her own.

But although the structure and themes are pretty average for this day and age,  the juxtaposition of the styles using the same character  is certainly creative.  I very much enjoyed the quiet parts with Anne and Maureen – maybe Mary,  Maureen’s daughter,  but the parts where Luke was in Afghanistan were a bit over the top in terms of violence for me.  Still,  that was an interesting juxtaposition of


Blackpool lights

In better times a long time ago,  Anne was a renowned photographer and she has some left – Maureen is fascinated by them and they are triggers for Anne’s memory.  Then Luke arrives and takes Anne on a trip to Blackpool where she lived for awhile and then kept the place for years for short trips  afterwards.  The secrets surface.

The title,  “The Illuminations” refers to the lights at Blackpool on the northwest shore of England.

NY Times review by Dani Shapiro 

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