Andrew O’Hagan’s fifth novel is a beautiful, deeply charged story about love and memory, about modern war and the complications of fact.
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How much do we keep from the people we love? Why is the truth so often buried in secrets? Can we learn from the past or must we forget it?
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 a pioneer of British documentary photography. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers, is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, part of a convoy taking equipment to the electricity plant at Kajaki. Only when Luke returns home to Scotland does Anne’s secret story begin to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room.
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
[Andrew O'Hagan's] impressive new novel ... 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 ... it 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.
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 Illuminations is a book at once both tender and ambitious. In the writing of it, O'Hagan has cast a shimmering light on love and memory, life and loss and on the secrets we keep from those closest to us, sometimes even from ourselves.'
In his fifth novel, Andrew O'Hagan examines topical subjects - war, nationalism, technology - and eternal themes like family and the effects of time. As you'll expect if you've read [O'Hagan's] other novels, which include the Man Booker shortlisted Be Near Me, he achieves this with such elegance that it's easy to underestimate the power of The Illuminations until its ending. Several times I was reminded of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections because O'Hagan dramatises the ways lives twist and turn in concert with history, locating the precious and profound in the everyday.
What a brilliantly versatile writer Andrew O'Hagan is ... [he] pulls the threads of his narrative together with consummate skill. It is beautifully done.
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