“Illumination” a novel by Kevin Brockmeier

I’m not even sure how this novel found its way onto my “to read” list but I must have thought the premise was an intriguing one. Turns out -it didn’t disappoint!
The book opens on the day when, worldwide, every human ailment, every cut, scrap, bruise, pain, or disease begins to emit light. The light varies depending on the severity of the problem. People glow with serious illnesses, but even a slight pinch radiates with a brief sparkle. The phenomenon is never explained or investigated-it just is-and people accept it as a part of their lives. As weird as that sounds, it doesn’t seem odd in the context of the story. As the reader, I really didn’t care so much about the illumination- it’s the characters and their relationship with a journal that grabbed me and didn’t let go.
You first meet Carol-one of 6 interconnected characters-(more on that later!) when she goes to the ER after doing some serious damage to her thumb with a sharp knife. While waiting for treatment a female victim of a serious car accident is brought in. She has with her a journal-actually it’s her copy of all of the one sentence love notes her husband has left on their refrigerator each morning. Believing her husband dead and not being able to bear the sight of the journal, she asks Carol to take it. At first appalled at the thought, Carol changes her mind after the woman dies and Carol realizes the journal may be tossed aside.
And now the story really begins!
This journal connects Carol and 5 other characters as it travels through their hands; the husband who wrote the love notes ( I know-obviously he didn’t die!), a young boy abused at home and bullied at school who believes even inanimate objects emit light from their pain, a religious missionary who travels around the world barely escaping several catastrophic events, a novelist plagued with mouth sores, and a homeless book seller.  Each character has his/her own chapter-some cover days, others months, one a lifetime. Brockmeier doesn’t wrap everything up neatly at the end of these chapters-he leaves you dangling wishing there was more but not necessarily unsatisfied.
This is a difficult book to discuss—I don’t want it to sound silly or whimsical because it’s not. Is it mystical? Sort of. Odd? Yes. Interesting and well written? Definitely. Worth a read? Most certainly! If you give it a try, let me know what you think.

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