The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. 293 pages; $26.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

O’Hagan writes in the third person, shifting perspective among multiple characters (sometimes within a single paragraph) and frustrating, until the very end, readerly attempts to uncover the “real story.” At the center of the tale is photographer Anne Quirk, 82, living in a senior facility in Scotland, and slowly disappearing into the oblivion of Alzheimer’s. Orbiting around her are a neighbor and grandson (who adore her) and her daughter Alice (who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” and remains at a distance). Questions pop up immediately: Why does Anne’s daughter feel a “pain, without really knowing where it came from”? Why are the details on Harry, the love of Anne’s life, so sketchy? Why is her grandson Luke in a “horrible place”? We take emotional journeys back into Anne’s past and physical journeys from Saltcoats and Blackpool in Scotland to war-torn Helmand Province in Afghanistan in search of the illuminations we hope the title promises. The plot twists are myriad, the characters slip out of the pigeon holes in which we instinctively place them, and the ending to it all is surprisingly satisfying. O’Hagan embeds searching questions about war and family relationships in a highly engaging plot and he does it masterfully.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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