“The Illumination” by Kevin Brockmeier

“The Illumination” by Kevin Brockmeier (2011) – 257 pages

I read several strong positive reviews of “The Illumination” by Kevin Brockmeier including a glowing one in the Guardian Observer by Julie Myerson. That is why I decided to read this novel. But it was only after I read the novel that I read a review that described it as ‘painterly’

I generally do not care for ‘painterly’ novels. I’m much more an ‘aural’ reader rather than a ‘visual’ reader. I enjoy witty dialogue and sharp repartee and grow impatient with lengthy visual description. From the name, “The Illumination”, alone I should have realized this might not be the novel for me.

“The Illumination” is built around two main conceits. One conceit is that suddenly all human pain becomes illuminated and visible. Thus we get descriptions of different parts of people’s bodies lighting up as they are injured in accidents or by illness. Now I need to explain another quirky thing about me. I’m terribly medically squeamish. Sores are bad enough without them lighting up. I really don’t want painterly descriptions of wounds or sores.

The other conceit of the novel is this book of love notes that a husband wrote for his wife which is passed from person to person in the novel. The novel is actually made up of six separate unrelated stories about people who somehow came into possession of this book of love notes. Here is an example of these love notes.

“I love sensing you beside me on long road trips. I love the idea of growing old and forgetful together.  I love the way you shake your head when you yawn.  I love how skillfully you use a pair of scissors. I love watching TV and shelling sunflower seeds with you.   I love the mess I made of braiding your hair. I love your ten fingers and love your ten toes.”

Some people may think these love notes are cute, meaningful, and thoughtful. Other people may think like me that these love notes are cute and sappy.

One of the stories in “The Illumination” is about a young boy named Chuck Carter and about eleven pages into the story there is the following line.

“There were ten words in every sentence – yet another rule.”

The first thing I noticed was that all the sentences immediately after that line had exactly ten words in each sentence. From then on in this 40 page story, I stopped reading every few lines in order to count how many words there were in each sentence and every time it was exactly 10 words. This counting of words in each sentence became rather an annoyance. Up to the very end of the story every sentence had 10 words. Then I went back to the beginning of the story and found that every sentence in the entire story had exactly 10 words. This seemed to be a rather annoying gimmick.  Also I did not develop a strong interest in the characters in these six stories.   

As I mentioned before, “The Illumination” has received some glowing reviews. Thus you should read some of these glowing reviews before making your decision to read or not read this novel.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Good to find your blog!

    I’ve just finished reading this book, and while I did enjoy it for Brockmeier’s craft, I was disappointed that such an interesting notion–that of pain giving off light–was dealt with on such a shallow level. I kept turning the pages in hopes I would get some human reaction to this odd phenomena.

    Ah, well. I’m off to read Albert Brooks, “2030”, next, and then on to Brockmeier’s critically acclaimed “The Short History of the Dead”.


  2. Hi Richard,
    I’ve been noticing that book ‘2030’ getting some publicity lately, so I looked it up and see that the Albert Brooks who wrote it is the same guy who makes these offbeat humorous movies and also starred in Broadcast News. I might be adding this to my read list.


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