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The Illumination

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,955 Ratings  ·  627 Reviews
What if our pain was the most beautiful thing about us?

From best-selling and award-winning author Kevin Brockmeier: a new novel of stunning artistry and imagination about the wounds we bear and the light that radiates from us all.

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 f
Kindle Edition, 275 pages
Published (first published 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 04, 2015 VegasGal rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
I don't think I've ever been so engrossed in a book like this one, and enjoyed it so much (even recommended it) but then suddenly half way through the story something happened and I got the literary rug pulled out from under me. How can something go from an "awesome wow" to a fizzled bunch of yuck?

Since I happen to be a person who suffers from chronic pain, I found the main premise of this story to not only be intriguing but personally touching - It's about pain suddenly giving off light in ever
Jan 26, 2011 Nicola rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes a good book is hard to read. Sometimes a hard book is good to read. Sometimes, a book is as good as it is bad. The Illumination was mostly the latter.

'The Illumination' is a phenomenon that suddenly occurs across the world, where physical aches and pains light up for all to see, and suffering becomes visible. The book follows 6 protagonists in a story hand-off that is spectacularly evenly divided and yet totally unsatisfying. Initially, we find ourselves in the company of a data analys
Feb 08, 2011 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers with imagination

Readers of my reviews may have noticed that I am attracted to the whimsical, the magical, the fantastic, in novels. Kevin Brockmeier surprised and startled me with his first novel, A Brief History of the Dead. I wondered how he would do that again in his second.

The Illumination is another work of sheer imagination laid over the gritty reality of modern life. Brockmeier uses the device of an object which passes through the hands of six characters, in this case a book of love quotes. It is a jou
Jan 19, 2011 Jamie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am conflicted about giving this book a star rating, because it was so unremarkable. Neither great nor bad, and yet the obligatory 3 stars makes it seem like I had an opinion.

I'm about as tired of linked stories as I am of precocious child narrators. This book has both. The links in The Illumination are extremely tenuous, to the point that it feels like the journal that follows all six had to be inserted just to give us a vague sense of continuity. Similarly, the illumination itself (injuries
Mar 20, 2011 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The world had changed in the wake of the Illumination. No one could disguise his pain anymore. You could hardly step out in public without noticing the white blaze of someone’s impacted heel showing through her slingbacks; and over there, hailing a taxi, a woman with shimmering pressure marks where her pants cut into her gut; and behind her, beneath the awning of the flower shop, a man lit all over in a glory of leukemia.


An interesting thing happens when reading Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumin
Apr 11, 2011 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel asks the question, "What if our pain is the most beautiful thing about us?" It's a compelling question, and the premise of the novel--that anywhere and anytime a person experiences pain it becomes illuminated so that everyone can see it--is ripe with potential. The common tie between characters in the novel, in addition to their pain,--Patricia's journal in which she records the messages that her husband leaves for her on the refrigerator every morning to reveal one new thing that he ...more
Helen Dunn
Jun 15, 2016 Helen Dunn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: four-stars, booktopia
I can't explain why, but I love Kevin Brockmeier's writing. It's sad and beautiful and oddly soothing.

The story is strange - about a world where pain glows with light - and his characters are all troubled and riddled with pain. Their stories are loosely intertwined in a way that reminded me that the world is smaller than we think.

I wish I knew what happened to all these people after the book ended.
Jun 27, 2012 Casey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wrote a developmental edit letter as my final project for Advanced Editing class... This is the beginning of that letter:

Since the structure of your book necessitates an edit that focuses heavily on the characters, I would be fascinated to know in which order you conceived of the characters and wrote the chapters. Which came first, the journal or the characters? Your writing is always based in an extremely unique concept, and yet you manage to see past that fantastical premise to the real human
Sarah Cypher
Apr 30, 2013 Sarah Cypher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Grace Herndon
When I first read the back of the book I was very intrigued and interested, however as I read the book I became less and less enthralled in the story. This book is written
very simply and there isn't much depth to any of the characters. I didn't feel a connection with any of the characters and I think this is partly because this book follows the story line of several different people. I also didn't feel as though this book had a purpose or a point to make to the readers.
One of the main aspect
Melanie Lamaga
Jan 14, 2013 Melanie Lamaga rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Illumination is a literary novel with only one fantastic element, but it’s a doozy: one day, inexplicably, the bodily pain of each and every human being on earth begins to manifest as a white light. Everything from a headache to leukemia shines out of the body like a beacon for all to see.

The story follows a sequence of people who come into possession of a journal of love notes, transcribed by a woman named Patricia, from the notes her husband left her on the fridge every day of their marria
Jul 04, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It's a series of linked stories held together by the phenomenon of the "illumination" and by a journal of daily love notes from a husband to his wife. The Illumination causes pain to appear as an emanation of light from the part of the body where the pain occurs. Each of the characters experiences this phenomenon in some way, and each connects in some way or other with the character whose story follows theirs. But this connection is ephemeral, it's really the book that is the ...more
Apr 11, 2011 Caitlin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Kenneth Brockmeier is so frustrating. His eye for detail is arresting, and I found myself constantly on the brink of tears during the first half of the book because it just seemed so true and real. His writing is gorgeous. But he can't seem to structure a novel; the entire concept of this one seems better suited to a short story (light pours from wounds!) than multiple chapters. He simply runs out of ways to say the one thing he wants to say. The links between the short story-like chapters are b ...more
Sep 06, 2015 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jill by: Stephanie
An almost meditative read. Stylistically beautiful, but gently -- not strikingly gorgeous, but flowing and constantly so. The stories are disjointed and occasionally convenient, but: so is life, and this book is big on life snapshots. Deus ex machina gets a bad rap -- but we've all experienced it, in some capacity, in our lives. To exclude that kind of experience completely would be disingenuous, unrealistic.

The undercurrent of pain-as-light was so cool, but not dealt with in as much depth as I
Stacey B
Apr 02, 2015 Stacey B rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The descriptions have a certain uniqueness that captivate and allow the reader to empathize with every detail. The main character in the novel is relatable and harbors the same amount of curiosity as the reader making each moment mysterious and intriguing.

The sociological aspects of the phenomena known simply as “The Illumination” are what make this book particularly interesting.
Can you be better close to someone by knowing and seeing where
their pain exist? Seeing the smoker and seeing his il
Dec 20, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll start by saying I absolutely loved Brockmeier's novel, The Brief History of the Dead. He's got such a unique writing style.

I read The Illumination over too long a period of time, and then reread it in a couple days. This book is beautifully written but it's the kind of book I had to read thoughtfully with no distractions, in order to fully appreciate it.

My favorite line: "She died a few moments after the sun touched her skin". This is his description of the death of a minor character bein
What a premise: Every person and creature on the planet lights up -- with pain. Whatever the wound, it's set ablaze. No more hiding our pain ... and every living thing is illumined to some degree. What happens when we perceive pain as light ...?


She had known days of happiness and beauty, rare moments of motionless wonder, but trying to relive them after they had vanished was like looking out the window at night from a partially lit room: no matter how interesting the view, there was alwa
This is the first book I've read by Kevin Brockmeier so I wasn't sure what to expect. His writing is beautiful. He paints characters in a rich way. The book is a collection of six short stories involving two common threads: (1) a phenomenon where a part of the body experiencing pain glows. Everyone can see it; nothing private about one's pain. (2) a diary from a husband to his wife extolling all the big and small things he loves about her.

Each of the six characters are in some sort of physical/e
Before page 65 I was already growing impatient with the premise: I didn't require any more extended descriptions of light pouring from wounds. I also found the writing/story a little sentimental, romantic, cheap, and obvious. Brockmeier's earlier novel A Brief History of the Dead, had an intriguing premise, but there the reader projected the inevitable conclusion the concept requires/contains (a Bardo-like city where the dead carry on their lives until all the humans on Earth who remember them a ...more
Jan 20, 2012 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-novels
This was an odd one and I have mixed feelings, I want to give it 3.5 stars. The idea is a good one; one day, very suddenly everyones pain is illuminated; shines in the form of light. Cuts and bruises, cancer, arthritis etc all shine from peoples bodies.
The story revolves around a journal put together by a wife whose husband left her a note on the fridge every day. These notes started "I love the way you...." The notes have been pasted in a journal. This journal travels between six people, each
May 31, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Heather M
Apr 22, 2012 Heather M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers interested in what comes out of the Iowa Writers Workshop MFA grads
While beautifully written and beautifully imagined, I felt The Illumination lacked story and character development. It seemed a series of short stories around a central premise rather than a cohesive novel. I generally like novels that switch between the perspectives of multiple characters; however, the level of depth we are treated to in the characters lives in The Illumination never passes the surface level. Few of these characters change throughout their sections; I don't believe any change f ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 29, 2012 Amanda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matthew Turner
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
Jul 06, 2011 Kirstie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in realistic fantasy, creative fiction
I really enjoyed the topic of this book more than anything else..the idea is that somehow our wounds-be them cuts, bruises, or cancerous tumors radiate light...some feel it's beautiful and some try to disguise it. The novel explores a few different perspectives of people finding out then living with this oddity, which is what becomes termed "The Illumination" itself. We meet a photographer, an author, a young boy who refuses to speak, an evangelist, and a homeless bookseller as well as all of th ...more
Apr 11, 2012 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who want to know who the cutters among us are
Shelves: 2012
What a beautifully written and affecting book. I can't help but think that if you liked it or not, you would ponder a lot of ideas that are brought up within it. When wounds start displaying themselves through light some media pundit coins it the "Illumination". We're talking any wound from lung cancer to a stubbed toe, sometimes the light might radiate and other times it might sparkle. Now that we can view all of each others physical frailties so clearly a number of things come up. What is the ...more
Christina Tang-Bernas
The premise of this novel is that all our wounds, our pain, our diseases are illuminated with light. So, walking down the street, we can see all the people around us and their afflictions. There is no hiding it. Does this make us have more compassion? More understanding, perhaps? Do we become beautiful through our pain and suffering? These are questions this novel asks and it plays out through a series of characters and their viewpoints, who are all connected by one book full of love notes that ...more
Jul 25, 2012 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kevin Brockmeier's "The Illumination" is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Brockmeier takes the premise—-what if our pain was visible to other people?—-and creates a world and cast of characters that explores this idea from multiple angles.

One Friday evening at 8:17, people everywhere who are injured or ill start to radiate from their areas of pain. We follow six different characters--a woman who accidentally cuts off the top of her thumb, a photographer who loses his wife in a te
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, Brockmeier received his MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1997. His stories have been featured in The New Yorker, McSweeny's, Crazyhorse, and The Georgia Review. He is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, the Nelson Algren Award, and a National Endowment of the Arts grant.
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“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 there in the warmth and destruction of it knowing it could not last.” 14 likes
“Occasionally, in the stillness of a taxi or an airplane, she would catalog the pleasures she had lost. Cigarettes. Chewing gum. Strong mint toothpaste. Any food with hard edges or sharp corners that could pierce or abrade the inside of her mouth: potato chips, croutons, crunchy peanut butter. Any food that was more than infinitesimally, protozoically, spicy or tangy or salty or acidic: pesto or Worcestershire sauce, wasabi or anchovies, tomato juice or movie-theater popcorn. Certain pamphlets and magazines whose paper carried a caustic wafting chemical scent she could taste as she turned the pages. Perfume. Incense. Library books. Long hours of easy conversation. The ability to lick an envelope without worrying that the glue had irritated her mouth. The knowledge that if she heard a song she liked, she could sing along to it in all her dreadful jubilant tunelessness. The faith that if she bit her tongue, she would soon feel better rather than worse.” 5 likes
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