The Illumination

Kevin Brockmeier

First Sentence:   It was Friday evening, half an hour before the light struck, and she was attempting to open a package with a carving knife.

For some strange reason pain is manifesting itself as light. From every cut, scar, bruise and lesion, light pours forth and this strange phenomenon becomes known as ‘The Illumination’.  So begins Kevin Brockmeier’s wonderfully enjoyable novel. More importantly than this light show however is a journal. No ordinary journal, it is composed of post-it notes left by a husband for his wife on the fridge door. Notes left every morning of their married life together. It is a journal filled with the most heartfelt, everyday declarations of love:

I love the sound of your voice over the phone when you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re doing a crossword puzzle from me. I love your lopsided smile. I love the way you leave a little space between each piece of bacon on your plate. I love the way, when I take my wedding ring off to do the dishes, you’ll put it on your finger and walk around the house saying, “I’m married to me, I’m married to me!”. I love your fear of heights and bridges. I love the fact that I know I can keep telling you things I love about you for the rest of our lives and I’ll never run out.

Carol Ann (the woman in the opening sentence who cuts her finger and ends up in hospital) takes this journal from the woman in the bed beside her after she dies as she believes the woman’s husband is dead too. He is not dead however, and it isn’t long before the journal is returned to him. It then gets passed on to four separate characters and it proves to have a profound effect on those who encounter it. From Jason, the husband who wrote the notes in the first place, the journal goes to Chuck Carter, a 10-year-old boy who is being bullied. Chuck is clearly no ordinary boy and may even be autistic. It was only after I was halfway through Chuck’s tale that I realised this entire part of the book is made up of sentences exactly ten words long, a length Chuck himself favours:

Todd kicked Chuck’s chair as he walked to his desk. Then he sat by the window which rippled with rain. A car slid past and the water separated its headlights. The red dots of its brakes shone from the glass. Then they vanished, and the rain was just rain again. Todd gripped his cap by the edges, tugging it down. Chuck noticed how snugly it fit, but didn’t say anything.

Chuck then hands it to Ryan Shiffrin, a Christian missionary, and eventually the journal winds up in the hands of Nina Poggione. That is until her teenage son unwittingly gives it to Morse Putnam Strawbridge, a homeless bookseller. So yes this is a novel with several separate narratives, something which may not appeal to everybody but I’d recommend you give this one a chance. It really is a stunningly good read, and beautifully written to boot…

* * * *

Last Sentence:   Yes, his moans were awful, and yes, his wounds burned out of him like a fire, but his pain would cease, and his body would heal, and the light would last forever.

Last Sentence explained:  And so it finishes with a general observation on suffering and its pervasiveness. In a world where all pain is visible it is easy to realise that everybody suffers to some extent. It is love however, that is the real illuminator and all the pain in the world does get outshone by all the love. Which will probably lead to more pain, but it is the beauty of the moment that comes across strongest in this book. The beauty to be found in the everyday, even if it is only fleeting:

Sometimes they rose up inside her, these moments of fierce happiness, kindling out of their own substance like a spark igniting a mound of grass. It was a joy to be alive, a strange and savage joy, and she stood their in the warmth and destruction of it knowing it could not last.

This book may make you see the pain but it will also make you feel the joy.

Random quotes from the book:

“She made a sound she did not think she had ever made before, a sigh like the beginning of all sighs.”

“Her eyes had the clarity of ice thawing in a sliver tray.”

“[…] when the sun seemed to dissolve into the clouds like an antacid tablet […]”

“Unbe-fucking-mazing”

And I think that sums it up quite nicely. Unbe-fucking-mazing indeed.

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2 thoughts on “The Illumination

  1. Wow I love your blog design and concept. I am really interested in Japan so I have read the Murakami and the Kawabat but not the Ogawa so I must check that out. It’s scary how many books you mention that I have never heard of. So many books and so so little time.

  2. Thanks Aidan, I feel the same whenever I visit other blogs and see some books I know and loads I don’t. All part of the fun I suppose…There’ll always be something new to find if you just look hard enough

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