Culture Street

Books

The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan

On February 10, 2015

By Sophia Whitfield

The Illuminations is a gripping story of love and loss from the twice Man Booker nominated, Andrew O’Hagan.

Anne Quirke is a war widow who was once an artistic pioneer. Years ago in New York she created groundbreaking documentary photographs. Now her memories are fading but it is the men in her life that she consistently talks about. Her relationship with her daughter Alice has always been fractured but she adores her grandson Luke, a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers, away on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Anne now lives in a flat within a community where her friend Maureen keeps a watchful eye on her. Maureen knows it can’t be long before Anne has to leave her small flat to go into more appropriate care. She has grown fond of her next door neighbour and especially of her grandson Luke. Maureen helps Anne continue to write to Luke while he is away and reads Anne all his letters.

While Maureen finds her own three children trying she has come to admire Luke, a young man who makes the time to write to his grandmother while he is away fighting in a war.

As Anne’s memories become confused she begins to interchange her husband Harry with her grandson Luke. When Luke returns from a tour of duty he sees the change in his grandmother and decides to take her back to Blackpool, a place she often speaks about. It is here that Luke finally discovers his grandmother’s secret life.

The Illuminations is a beautifully told story. On the one hand there is the visual horror of war experienced by Anne’s grandson Luke and on the other the deep connection that is formed through care and love.

A thought provoking book, full of depth and insight.

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