The Illuminations

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
A compelling new novel by two-time Booker finalist and internationally acclaimed author Andrew O'Hagan. For readers of Colm Toibin, Ian McEwan, Alan Hollinghurst and David Mitchell.
     How much do we keep from the people we love? Why is the truth so often buried in secrets? Can we learn from the past or must we forget it? The Illuminations, Andrew O'Hagan's fifth work of fiction, is a powerful, nuanced and deeply affecting novel about love and memory, about modern war and the complications of fact.
     Standing one evening at the window of her house by the sea, Anne Quirk sees a rabbit disappearing in the snow. Nobody remembers her now, but this elderly woman was in her youth an artistic pioneer, a creator of groundbreaking documentary photographs. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain in the British army is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. When his mission goes horribly wrong, he ultimately comes face to face with questions of loyalty and moral responsibility that will continue to haunt him. Once Luke returns home to Scotland, Anne's secret story begins to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room. There they witness the annual illuminations--the dazzling artificial lights that brighten the seaside resort town as the season turns to winter. The Illuminations is a beautiful and highly charged novel that reveals, among other things, that no matter how we look at it, there is no such thing as an ordinary life.


“Andrew O’Hagan movingly explores the way the ‘flotsam’ of a life can rise to the surface as old age and memory go about their strange and poignant work…. O’Hagan’s ability to sum up a life in the most poignant, matter-of-fact way is reminiscent of Kipling…. It’s a measure of O’Hagan’s compassion that after balancing these stories of war and family – braving the battlefield and braving the passing of time – the ultimate note is hopeful and almost gentle, of something that seems real and vital.”
The Telegraph

“The novel, like its two main characters, has a double life. It moves with bold, imaginative daring and a troubled intensity between men at war and women with their children, between Scotland and Afghanistan, between photography and fiction, and between memory and secrets. ... But it 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, The Guardian
“The Illuminations is a book at once both tender and ambitious. In the writing of it, O’Hagan has cast a shimmering light on love and memory, life and loss and on the secrets we keep from those closest to us, sometimes even from ourselves.”
The Observer
“Andrew O’Hagan could well win the Man Booker prize for this his fifth work of fiction.  Myself I’d give The Illuminations two Bookers… You could argue (as I would) that only in fiction as good as this will you find war, sex, nationalism and the care of the elderly, truthfully handled.  The Illuminations is a novel which validates the greatness of fiction in hands as masterly as Andrew O’Hagan.  Read it and see what I mean”
The Times
The Illuminations is immensely generous and wholly committed to conveying the complex intelligence of its large and varied cast of characters. The men and women we meet in these pages are full of contradictions, and as mysterious to others – and to themselves – as real human beings…. The novel is at once dramatically plotted and leisurely enough to sustain a series of meditations on consciousness, memory, loyalty, identity, friendship, love and history…. The Illuminations misses nothing, and we can be grateful for the energy and the intelligence with which O’Hagan has presented us with the complexity of human consciousness, and has managed to convey both the beauty and the harshness of the world in which his characters – and his readers – live.”
– Francine Prose, Prospect
“O’Hagan has cast a shimmering light on love and memory, life and loss and on the secrets we keep from those closest to us, sometimes even from ourselves.”
– Elizabeth Day, The Guardian
“What a brilliantly versatile writer Andrew O'Hagan is…. [He] pulls the threads of his narrative together with consummate skill. It is beautifully done.” – Mail on Sunday
“As you’ll expect if you’ve read his other novels, which include the Man Booker shortlisted Be Near Me, he achieves this with such elegance that it’s easy to underestimate the power of The Illuminations until its ending. Several times I was reminded of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections because O’Hagan dramatises the ways lives twist and turn in concert with history, locating the precious and profound in the everyday.”
Independent on Sunday

“Superb.... O’Hagan is just about the most exciting writer in English today.... O’Hagan is a writer who is intimate, humane and, above all, forgiving.... The best novel I’ve read so far this year, and that is a judgment that may well hold up over the next 11 months.”
The Australian

“The Scottish author’s fifth novel is a lean yet rich family story built of small and crucial moments in memories and reality across three generations…. It’s remarkable how much human territory O’Hagan explores and illuminates with a restrained style that also helps drive the novel along at a good clip.”
Kirkus Reviews
“At the core of this powerfully affecting novel lies the question: how much is a life worth?”
Sunday Independent (Ireland)
“A poignant and current story.”
Harper’s Bazaar

From the Hardcover edition.