The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan

the illuminationsAn adult fiction pick by Jean-Louis

(McClelland & Stewart, 2015)

Andrew O’Hagan’s novel explores both the opaqueness of human experience and the moments of illumination that periodically shine through. Anne Quirk is a resident of a senior’s home who is rapidly slipping into dementia. Her ability to grasp reality is fading and her daughter’s understanding of her mother is even more tenuous. Anne’s link to family has one strong link yet and that is to her beloved grandson Luke. Luke, a captain in the British army, is fighting his own battles with life as he fights to keep his head above water in battle and during its aftermath.

O’Hagan is really interested in how his characters can know themselves and how they can control their interactions. Mother to daughter, grandmother to grandson, captain to major, and neighbor to neighbor relationships are all explored in this fascinating novel. When do we truly understand ourselves, when do we ever understand our connections to one another, and can we ever be free from our own delusions are all questions to be grappled with.

Anne Quirk, while now an aging woman on her way to a nursing home, was once a photographic pioneer who captured life in groundbreaking ways. Her work is being celebrated by a Canadian gallery but will she ever realize these accolades. Her daughter does not understand her and feels comes completely shuttered from her mother’s true self. Will Luke, the grandson, who is fighting his own demons be the one to help his grandmother reconnect to her true self. A last trip with Anne to Blackpool brings both of their pasts into full exposure and illumination.

The novel is subtle, nuanced, and a fascinating read. Do not miss it!

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