Monday 14 September 2015

Contrasting coping mechanisms revealed

The Illuminations

by Andrew O'Hagan

Yet another book about dementia and memory!  This time threaded through with the story of dementia sufferer’s grandson, Luke, who is a soldier. Anne, the grandmother, is getting less able to survive in the sheltered accommodation that is currently her home, even with the help of family and neighbours. Luke has returned from serving in Afghanistan, still dealing with the death of his colleague, the inadequacies of their commanding officer and their betrayal by a fellow Afghani officer.

The book alternates  between Annie’s story and Luke’s both in Afghanistan and once he is back home in Scotland. Always closer to his gran than his mother, Alice,  ever has been, he sets about helping her to get ready for the move and discovers much more than they ever knew about Anne’s past. SPOILER ALERT – That past is her origins in Canada, that she came to look after aunts in Scotland, became a famous documentary photographer in the 60s, fell in love with a married man with whom she spent time in a a flat in Blackpool (hence The Illuminations)  and who left her high and dry, pregnant with Luke’s mother and an unknown twin brother, who died as a child, and surrounded by lies.

I like the characterisations throughout – of Anne, of her neighbour, and of Luke and the boys from his platoon. I did struggle with the dialog of the army life, but therein lies the contrasts at the heart of this novel – coping with the battlefield now and after the soldiers try to loose their memories of war in drug fuelled nights on the town, in playing computer games, whereas the Memory Club tries to help the old folk cope with the passing of time, to recall their past youth, the past familiar, to enable them to continue to live semi-independently in the now. As Luke decides not to return to the army life, his exploration of Anne’s past is “illuminating” of her, of his mother’s relationship with her, his own and himself, of different ways of dealing with memories, loss, lies and cover ups.

ashramblings 3* I suspect some people will really like this novel, but for me it was just a bit to sentimental. Not my normal read, but it would make a fine, topical, dramatization for TV.

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