By Andrew O'Hagan
Scotsman Andrew O'Hagan's novels include Be Near Me (**** Sept/ Oct 2007) and The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (***1/2 Mar/Apr 2011). He teaches creative writing at King's College, London, is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books, and has been twice nominated for the Booker Prize. The Illuminations is his fifth novel.
THE STORY: Canadian Scottish Anne Quirk is now in the early stages of dementia in a coastal retirement home, but in her youth she was a photographic pioneer. Her grandson, Luke Campbell, a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers, has recently returned to Scotland after a disastrous tour in Afghanistan. Like his grandmother, he tends to twist autobiographical stories into more flattering versions of reality. Now, setting out on a visit to the Blackpool Illuminations to clear up a mystery from the past, both both Anne and Luke must acknowledge that life often diverges from our expectations of it. In this subtle novel about memory and distortion, the historical truth will always prevail.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 304 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374174569
Guardian (UK) ****
"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 novel] 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
Minneapolis Star Tribune ****
"The Illuminations is a natural extension of O'Hagan's earlier work (aided in part by the reappearance of characters from previous novels) but also an elaborate and ambitious departure from it. The well-researched Afghanistan sequences are gripping." MALCOLM FORBES
NY times Book Review ****
"[I]n The Illuminations, the Scottish novelist and critic 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.... This harsh and soulful novel brings Capt. Luke Campbell back to the possibility of himself." DANI SHAPIRO
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ****
"Photography, both how it freezes and how it alters perception, is a strong motif.... It is a triumph of this book that no character, even the ones...