At 8:17 on a Friday night, the Illumination commences. Every wound begins to shine, every bruise to glow and shimmer. And in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes, written by a husband to his wife, passes into the keeping of a hospital patient and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely.
©2011 Kevin Brockmeier (P)2011 Recorded Books LLC
There are two premises for this story, which are revealed early in the narrative, so no real spoilers here! The first is that pain, an intimately subjective and isolating experience, becomes visible as light. The second premise is the life of a private journal of love notes, passed from hand to hand. The result is a compelling, fascinating and moving collection of six personal stories, some of which cover a number of weeks, others over years.
The most striking element for me is the exploration of physical and emotional pain and sickness, and what might happen if these could no longer be hidden from view. For some, it means a fascination with the body, for others, a wrestle with concepts of soul and divinity. As a chronic pain sufferer, this makes it a book very close to my heart.
The book also explores the effects that texts have on one another, and plays with one-sided conversations, non-verbal communications, and the differing perspectives of readers exploring the same text. This is a treat for lovers of language.
It is a good audio presentation, with decent narration. The reader's interpretations can sometimes encroach on the listener's experience of the text, but it is rare enough to find a reading where that does not happen. In one particular section, it can be difficult to identify where one authorial voice ends and another begins, and without any knowledge of how this is represented in the print ediction, I cannot comment on whether certain disorienting features are deliberate or not.
All in all, this is a book I will treasure, and have already recommended it to many friends.
The concept of the illumination is really brilliant so it's quite astounding that Kevin Brockmeyer has managed to write a book in which nothing happens. Odd characters loosely tied together by the thread of a journal of love letters I was expecting there to be a point to it all. If boredom were pain I would be shining brightly with it.
"Completely intriguing but ultimately disappointing"
This book had two fascinating central ideas: (a) the concept of hidden pain becoming visible; and (b) the power of something precious passing from one person to another.
So the first chapter of “The Illumination” had me hooked… I couldn’t wait to see how things unraveled. But now that I’ve reached the end, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of disillusionment… forgive the pun. My disappointments are threefold:
(1) Despite the intriguing framing, I was bored of these same two ideas being recycled for the entire 9 hour duration. By the end, if I had to hear one more synonym of light (or bright, shining, illuminating, shimmering etc…), I thought I would scream. Describing the illumination event could have carried a single chapter, not the entire book.
(2) Things get weird at the end. I won’t say anything more than that.
(3) In the end, the biggest frustration was the feeling of unmet potential. I desperately wanted the protagonists to interact more. Or overlap more. Or learn more. Or evolve more. Or anything. I wanted to be immersed in a mystic journey, not just hear a description of a mystic event.
Having said that, Brockmeier sure does have a talent for description. The prose is beautiful. That is one piece of praise I can lavish quite freely. There is no doubt that Kevin Brockmeier is ridiculously talented, with a mind full of great ideas. I will definitely read his next novel, in the hope it retains the central beauty of “The Illumination” but gets packaged in something more ultimately satisfying.
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