Audiobook Review: The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier

Imagine a world in which everyone's pain is visible as a kind of radiant light. In which blood shimmers, bruises shine, and broken bones glow with hurt. Suddenly, our definitions of privacy must change, must adapt to a world in which our suffering is shared; our co-workers know how bad that headache really is, the world can see the sting of a recent waxing, your ex-wife can see the hurt in your heart when you run into each other on the sidewalk.

Some embrace this sudden, inexplicable change, tattooing themselves with scars that glow with every movement, slicing their skin to show the beauty of their lightness. Others hide it, keeping lips closed to contain the glow of a canker sore. Some others have never known any different, too young to remember a time before the light started.

In this world, there is a book. It is a book of miniatures love letters, written from a husband to his wife each morning, and recorded by the wife in her journal every day, until the day the light comes, the day she dies in a car accident. This book travels from one person to another, touching their lives in ways unexpected and unimaginable, exciting and enlightening.

This is the story contained within Kevin Brockmeier's exquisite novel, The Illumination. And contained within the story are musings on the nature of pain, of our shared vulnerability, of our loneliness, and of our desire to love and to be loved. The novel, read on the audio version by Graham Rowat, reads almost like a collection of related, but independent short stories; each bit entirely capable of standing on its own, but best when taken as a whole. Rowat's narration reflects this style, coming across as detached, almost matter-of-fact; at first, the presentation is jarring, but as the pieces fall together, it becomes apparent that this was the most appropriate style for these particular stories.While both the writing and the narration seemed at first a bit unapproachable, The Illumination comes through in the end as a clear, concise articulation of an idea, an articulation that is as thoughtful as it is thought-provoking.


Thoughts from other bookworms:

Books on the Nightstand (the review that got me to pick this one up at the library in the first place)
The Book Lady's Blog
Jenn IRL


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Honestly, I normally relish this part of my review, but The Illumination is proving unique enough to trip me up a bit. Perhaps it's best if it stands on its own here. The best I can do is this Tumblr, inspired by the mini love letters in the book.


The Illumination | Kevin Brockmeier, nar. Graham Rowat | Recorded Books | 9780307387776 | $24.99 Audio MP3 | 9 hrs, 8 min | July 2011 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you


  1. I first read a review of this one over at The Book Lady's Blog, and I've been fascinated by the premise ever since. Once I work my way through a few more Tournament of Books books I'll be tackling this one.

  2. What an interesting premise! I read The Brief History of the Dead over a year ago and still remember it vividly. I need to go find this one. Thanks for the review!


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