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Book of the month

January 2016 book of the month: THE ILLUMINATIONS by Andrew O'Hagan.

88 replies

TillyMumsnetBookClub · 04/12/2015 14:26

The acclaimed novelist, journalist and critic Andrew O’Hagan has been nominated for the Booker Prize three times and was voted one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists. His latest book The Illuminations is a multilayered story that centres on two main characters: Anne, a former photographer who is now slipping into dementia in a sheltered housing complex and her grandson Luke Campbell, an army captain on a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan. When Luke returns, almost destroyed by his experience in a misguided and futile war, he takes his grandma to Blackpool, where fragments of her memories appear and disappear like the famous lights. Reading her old letters and looking at photos, Luke ‘witnessed her spirit survive a series of trials he had never known about, and it made her love her more, while doubting the strength and consistency of men, including himself’. Full of secrecy, memory and loss, this is a beautifully constructed novel from a wise and gifted writer, whose first-hand experience and talent for dialogue bring his subject alive.

You can read about Andrew’s experiences in Afghanistan and the background to his novel in this excellent Telegraph interview

What the critics said:

‘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.’ Guardian

‘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’ The 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

Book giveaway:

Faber have 50 copies of The Illuminations to give to Mumsnetters: to claim your copy, please fill in your details on the book of the month page. We’ll post here on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can always get a Kindle edition or paperback here. Alternatively you could download the audiobook and listen to it on the go. Audible are offering Mumsnet users two free audiobooks when they sign up for a free trial. For details see their partner offer page.

We are delighted that Andrew will be joining us on Wednesday 27 January to discuss The Illuminations, his previous award-winning novels and his writing career. Please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month and then come and meet Andrew on the night, ask him a question or simply tell him what you thought of the book.

January 2016 book of the month: THE ILLUMINATIONS by Andrew O'Hagan.
January 2016 book of the month: THE ILLUMINATIONS by Andrew O'Hagan.
OP posts:
thequickbrownfox · 07/12/2015 21:00

Ooh, yes please! Form duly filled in.

TrappedInAWitchesCurse · 07/12/2015 22:00

Filled in. Fingers crossed!

sandgrown · 08/12/2015 06:57

Oh yes please . Saw the title but was surprised to see it really was about Blackpool illumination .

whatwoulddexterdo · 08/12/2015 07:46

Just applied. Fingers crossed

Twitterqueen · 08/12/2015 09:20

Sorted! Xmas Smile

G1veMeStrength · 08/12/2015 23:35

Looks very good. I like 'dementia books' - enjoyed Still Alice and Elizabeth is Missing, I hope this is similarly thought provoking.

RachelMumsnet · 21/12/2015 20:41

The book giveaway is closed now and we've sent over the details of those who have been selected to receive copies of the book. We'll let you know by midday tomorrow if you're going to be receiving a copy. If you weren't lucky this time, why not add the book to your Christmas time and read over the festive season and join us on 27th January for our first bookclub webchat in 2016.

BigginsforPope · 24/12/2015 12:12

My copy arrived today. Really pleased to receive it and looking forward to getting stuck in. Smile

gailforce1 · 26/12/2015 14:32

So pleased my copy arrived on Christmas Eve - a great present that I was not expecting! Looking forward to reading.

whatwoulddexterdo · 26/12/2015 20:44

Had a lovely surprise to find this waiting for me when I came home from spending Christmas with my parents.
Thank you mumsnet. I will enjoy this between now and New Year.

Soupswoop · 02/01/2016 12:44

Thank you Mumsnet for my free copy which I devoured over Christmas. I loved this book. I was immediately drawn into the story and found both Anne and Maureen's characters very well written, particularly bearing in mind they are created by a male author. I thought he really captured Maureen, who can be a bit of a difficult character, especially the tensions between her persona with her friends and her relationship with her family, she felt very real to me. It does take a bit of adjusting to move to the Afghanistan section (is it compulsory to have multiple narrators nowadays?) but again I thought they were really well done - you could almost taste the dust. It all makes sense later, Luke had to have strong early experiences to make him able to be as nostalgic for Anne's past as he is - an average person at his (relatively young) age would not feel that way. One minor moan - lovely cover for the hardback, the dandelion picture refers to three themes of the book, memory fading, photography, and the Blackpool Illuminations. Lovely. What have they done with the paperback? Just a 'meh' chick lit picture - does not do the book justice.

TillyMumsnetBookClub · 07/01/2016 14:09

Happy New Year everyone, hope you all had an excellent holiday.

We've got some cracking books lined up for 2016, and I can't wait to kick off with the marvellous Mr Andrew O'Hagan at the end of this month.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the book (or any of his books for that matter) - do remember that even if you haven't read or finished this one, you an always join in with a question about other books or writing in general.

Look forward to seeing you on 27th, 9-10pm...

OP posts:
angie95 · 11/01/2016 18:02

Loved it, have posted a review xx

RachelMumsnet · 15/01/2016 12:12

Thanks to those who have posted on the board. We'll be contacting all those who were assigned free books later today to offer a Free copy of next month's book of the month (Julian Barnes' The Noise of Time) to those who commit to joining on the night. If you weren't assigned a free copy but have read the book and can commit to joining the book of the month discussion on eve of 27th Jan, please email us at boo[email protected] and we'll add your name to the 'free book hat.

For anyone who enjoyed The Illuminations, I have just finished another of Andrew's books Personality. Set on the Scottish Island of Bute, it's based on the story of Opportunity Knocks star Lena Zavaroni and is an incredibly interesting and moving story about desire for fame and it's perils. It's a quick read and I'd really recommend it. Hope to see you all on the 27th.

FernieB · 18/01/2016 21:08

Finished this yesterday after just 3 sittings. I enjoyed the characters, especially Maureen and Alice, and the dialogue was particularly well written. The contrast in style/language between the Luke's story and Maureen/Ann's story was brilliantly done. So often with multiple narratives I find I lose track of who's telling the story, but not in this book.

I'm probably a bit premature posting a question, but I understand that Andrew went to Afghanistan to do some research for Luke's story. I'd like to know if there's a particular incident or person from his trip that teally stayed with him? Also did he do any research into sheltered housing schemes and dementia?

shaktar · 23/01/2016 23:27

I really enjoyed this book and finished it just 5 mins ago. Until the last page I think I was waiting for a finale or at least something to tie all the threads together which didn't really happen - but on reflection just spending time with all the characters, however unsympathetic some may have been, made this a fantastic book.
January always feels like a slower paced, mindful time of year and reading this book dovetailed perfectly.

TillyMumsnetBookClub · 25/01/2016 11:39

Looking forward to chatting to you all with Andrew on Wednesday night - if you can't make it, do put a question up here beforehand...

OP posts:
Givemecoffeeplease · 25/01/2016 18:08

My brother was in the army and I was fascinated by the military chapters "on the job". Do you have a military background and what inspired you to make Luke an army officer?

AndrewOHagan · 26/01/2016 17:24

Hello All! I'm very much looking forward to speaking with you all tomorrow night at 9 pm. Best, Andrew

Corygal1 · 26/01/2016 20:08

Oh, looks like I'm so excited I turned up a day early! Right, back to some rereading of The Work - lovely.
atrociouscook · 26/01/2016 21:49

Hi Andrew

I'm writing this from St Lucia, where I read the book and found it hard to relate to the war in Afghanistan from this peaceful island. I was very disturbed to read about the soldiers and officers taking drugs and then going off to battle - can we take all you wrote about the army as true - how much research did you do? I didn't find it a "can't put down" book and it was not, I think, your best but an easy read - thank you.

LocalEditorMerton · 27/01/2016 18:38

Hi Andrew

As a reader, I felt much more drawn to Luke's storyline than Anne's - was that your intention? For me, it was the insight into life in the British Army on an overseas tour of duty in a war zone - it was eye-opening to say the least! I found I was rooting for him all the way, whereas I didn't warm to Anne (or Alice) at all.

What is your favourite literary depiction of a soldier/war/battle, and why?

And what are you working on next?



frogletsmum · 27/01/2016 19:40

Hi Andrew

Just wanted to say how much I loved this book, and how it drew me in despite initially thinking I wasn't going to enjoy the army sections at all. You seem to me to be very even-handed and generous with your characters, finding the humanity in everyone, even the less likeable ones such as Alice. I wondered if you have a favourite character in this book or any of your others? And which part of the book did you find easier to write, Anne's story or Luke's?

Big thanks to Mumsnet too for the copy!

RoastieToastieReastie · 27/01/2016 20:48

currently enjoying the book, Andrew. I particularly like how the characters seem so real. I think everyone has known a Maureen at some point Grin.

I wondered whose story you enjoyed writing the most, Anne's or Lukes's?

I agree with LocalEditor that it was insightful into the army realities and see from your note of thanks at the beginning of the book you've had some help with making it a realistic depiction (I can but assuming as I know nothing about what it would be like).

gailforce1 · 27/01/2016 20:56

Hi Andrew
I would like to ask you about your involvement with the Scottish Book Trust. I have watched the you tube clip but unfortunately the sound level was too low to hear you at the end.
I saw your typewriter and computer - do you type your drafts first then move on to the computer?

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