Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize
The Illuminations, the fifth novel from Andrew O'Hagan, a writer "of astonishingly assured gifts" (The New York Times Book Review), is a work of deeply charged beauty--and one that demonstrates, with poignancy and power, that no matter how we look at it, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.
Anne Quirk's life is built on stories--the lies she was told by the man she loved and the fictions she told herself to survive. Nobody remembers Anne now, but in her youth she was an artistic pioneer, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson Luke, a captain with the Royal West Fusiliers in the British army, has inherited her habit of transforming reality. When his mission in Afghanistan goes horribly wrong, he returns to Scotland, where the secrets that have shaped his family begin to emerge. He and Anne set out to confront a mystery from her past among the Blackpool Illuminations--the dazzling lights that brighten the seaside town as the season turns to winter.
This empathetic novel from O Hagan (Our Fathers) revolves around a fictional, largely unknown photographer named Anne Quirk, and Luke, her grandson, who serves in the British Army. Anne suffers from dementia and lives in a retirement community. Luke is serving in Afghanistan, where he listens to death metal, gets stoned, and watches the war tear apart his mentor, Major Scullion. In her youth, Anne was a sharp woman, with a keen eye for beauty in the commonplace. Luke often reminisces on the moments they had together, and the ways she encouraged him to look closely at the world around him. When Luke was 12, she took him to Dunure Harbour, where they stood holding hands on the jetty, the wind pushing them back as they took great gulps of air. Breathe, Luke! she said. You can t argue with that! Fresh wind off the sea. Oh my. I wish I could catch it with the camera. As Anne s memory deteriorates, Luke seeks out details about her life and discovers a life marked by tragedy and self-deceit. O Hagan sympathetically dissects how falsehoods burrow into daily life; his story provides a deeply felt urge to look more closely at the world and those we love.