Book Review! The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier

A while ago C suggested that I write book reviews on Movies and Mangoes, and I wasn’t too keen on it since most of the stuff we write about, we do together.  But lately I’ve been missing having someone around to discuss books with (anyone know of a killer book club I can join??) and I tried writing about the stuff I read on facebook but no one had read the books I was writing about.  (Although, if any of you are reading, I LOVED the discussion we had on the third Hunger Games books!!  Yay for friends!)

So, like always, C was right and I was not as right and here I am writing about a book I finished reading at lunch today.  I give you:

The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier made it onto NPR’s 10 best novels of 2011 and therefore made it onto my reading list.  Since my local library had a copy available for immediate Kindle downloading, I got it last week to use during my time on the elliptical.  (Which, by the way, turns out to be the number one thing I like about the Kindle – no need to prop the pages open!  Many thanks to my mother-in-law who gave it to me <3)

This was, I suppose, a fantasy novel of sorts.  It follows the stories of 6 diverse people: a divorced and lonely woman, a recent widower, a bullied child that seems to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, an agnostic Christian missionary, an author with a mysterious illness, and a homeless book seller, who are all linked together through a small journal containing daily love letters from a husband to his wife.  In the background of these stories is the inexplicable fact that suddenly everyone’s pain is now visible through a white light that intensifies with sorrow, injury, and severity.

First, I’ll just say that I liked this book.  The writing was beautiful and I was impressed with how well the author created a different “voice” for each character.  I did find the missionary’s existential ramblings a bit on the boring side, but that was probably true to character 🙂  But any slowness there was more than made up for by the chapter following: the author, interspersed with her own short story that she was reading on a book tour.

The author also had this technique where he would seem to get right to the climax of a person’s story, and then it would end, and the next page would introduce you to someone new.  After the first section, I expected that we would go back to her later, but as each section introduced someone new, and never picked up where the previous character left off, I was left with a feeling of… I’m not sure but I think something like how relationships feel in general.  You’re involved with someone while you know them, and then you lose touch and you don’t hear from them even though you still think about each other.  Bittersweet, I guess?  Bittersweet but real.

And maybe that’s what I liked most about this book.  There was a philosophical question under each character – what is love to this person?  Who do they love?  Is love necessary to their lives?  And The Illumination added another interesting layer, how would we respond if we could see everyone’s pain?  What would it mean if it was just another part of life?  Would it even mean anything at all?  But the bottom line was, these people felt real.  It was like getting a peek in someone’s life during one of their pivotal moments.  Just a glimpse, but enough to see who they are.

I like to think that every person has a story, every life is an adventure.  A few years ago my grandma finished writing down her “story”, a compilation of her journals and memories to give to her children and grandchildren.  I knew most of the things she wrote about already, and my grandma’s life was probably fairly ordinary, but reading it together like that made me see her in a whole new light.  A whole person that isn’t defined by her relationship to me.  Someone with love, loss, redemption, and dreams.  Reading this book reminded me of that feeling.

K’s rating of The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier: 6/10 mangoes

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