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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagen

This book is long listed for this year's Booker Prize, which is my favorite prize in literature.  I read about 10 of the 13 books that are long listed each year, although I am not always great at doing so before the finalists are announced.  This author has written several books prior to this one, but as is so often the case, I am not familiar with many of the great contemporary Irish authors.

This book juxtaposes a grandmother and her grandson.  Anne is a woman who we are led to think has had a full and adventurous life that the reader gets a glimpse of through the photographs she has.  Anne herself is fading, but she wants to return to Blackpool, a city with emotional resonance for her.

Anne’s internal conflict is counterpointed by a second, interlinked storyline, which follows her grandson, Luke, a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers, who is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan and part of a convoy taking equipment to the electricity plant at Kajaki. In contrast to the contemplative passages detailing Anne’s enigmatic past, the passages in Afghanistan are a blaze of action and banter. The life of a modern-day soldier is vividly and disturbingly portrayed, and wraps up with a battle that goes terribly wrong, psychologically wounding Luke.  He and Anne come together at the end of the book in a powerful way that is almost haunting.

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