Christina Tang-Bernas's Reviews > The Illumination

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
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's review
Apr 20, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

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 somehow makes it into their hands.

There is a beauty and poetry to Mr. Brockmeier words, a rhythm that is almost song-like. He doesn't shy away from difficult words or difficult concepts or deep almost-painful introspection. And the love notes made me tear up a little, a husband's daily tribute to all the little things he loves about his wife, impossibly gorgeously sweet.

The characters, however, are unrelentingly tragic and flawed and not likable at all. It's like Mr. Brockmeier did not believe any of them worthy of redemption and so each person's story ends with sort of an achy acknowledgment that life sucks and there's nothing we can do about it, that even if we see the pain (literally), nothing changes. Even the book of love notes do not survive intact in the end. And that inherently pessimistic tone leaves me cold with no emotional connection to the book once I finished reading it.
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