The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan

Andrew O’Hagan was a new-to-me author. I’d heard of him before, but never read him. I’m not quite sure why, as he seems to have gathered quite the accolades over the years. He seems to have been nominated or won just about every prize there is, he’s a contributor or editor of some of the best magazine. In short, he is a big name in write, at least in the UK. So I was thrilled when Willoughby Book Club sent me The Illuminations by him.

The story centers on Anne Quirk, an aging photographer struck with dementia. Slowly, through different people, we learn about her early life and heyday in Blackpool. The other major character in the novel is Anne’s grandson, a Captain in Afghanistan. As the story progresses we learn about his trauma and life in the army.

Do these two parts seem a little disconnected? Yes, I thought so too. The parts dealing with Anne reminded me of Elizabeth is Missing (review). I suppose that’s because I’ve read very few books about aging and senility. The other parts of the novel, the parts set in Afghanistan, I didn’t enjoy nearly as much. I suppose that’s because I just don’t read war novels. Too much battle talk.

Overall, I found the writing to be wonderful. The parts of the story I enjoyed I really enjoyed. The other parts bored me. That wouldn’t have been such an issue but i just don’t believe that the two parts of the novel hung together all that well.

Who would like this book? Andrew O’Hagan is a wonderful writer. I will be on the look out for more by him. The Illuminations deals wonderfully with aging in the UK and the nostalgia surrounding Blackpool was quite wonderful. I highly recommend reading O’Hagan, but in all honesty, I might steer you towards one of his other books (which I have not read).

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2 Comments

  1. I loved the writing in this too. But am a bit of a fan of O’Hagan anyway ( we Glaswegians stick together!). I’d agree this isn’t perhaps the best of O’Hagans books to try first though – personally my favourites are ‘Our Fathers’ and ‘The Life and Opinions of Maf The Dog and his friend Marilyn Monroe’ – both different but both brilliant.

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