As It Happens

Family, memory, and the new politics of war: a feature interview with author Andrew O'Hagan

Scottish novelist Andrew O'Hagan joins Carol Off in the As It Happens studio to talk about his new novel The Illuminations.
(McClelland and Stewart / Ross Gillespie)

Andrew O'Hagan's new novel is called The Illuminations. In his feature interview with As It Happens host Carol Off, the Scottish novelist has a lot to say -- from family secrets, to the shaky moral foundations of the war on terror. 

The novel centres on the relationship between the once well-known photographer Anne Quirk, and her grandson, British military officer Luke Campbell. (The character of Quirk is based loosely on the real-life Canadian photographer Margaret Watkins).

It's an unlikely pairing. Quirk spends her days in the monotony of a retirement home, where she struggles with the onset of dementia. Luke, on the other hand, is in the heat of battle with British forces in Afghanistan, commanding troops on a mission to bring electric power to a remote area of the country. 

O'Hagan tells Off, "I always saw this young soldier as being on a journey back to the secrets and lies of his own family. And his grandmother, she too is on a journey out of herself."

Luke's mission in Afghanistan ends in tragedy, and he is left disillusioned with the war. O'Hagan, who spent time in Afghanistan researching the novel, says he worked hard to capture the motivations, and the language, of the individual soldiers on the ground in the conflict.

"They don't have much respect for politicians. Yet it doesn't cause them to get in argument with the circumstances. The loyalty they feel is to each other. They're dying for Jack and Harry and Freddy and Jimmy." 

In his As It Happens interview, O'Hagan says he wanted to openly question the moral underpinnings of the so-called 'war on terror,' and the idea that it is the responsibility of Western countries to 'police the world.' 

"We were chasing a phantom: 'world terrorism,' he says. "We've never really come to a sophisticated place morally about what we're doing in those places. Since the events of 9/11, we have run blind and anxious into a world of mystery." 

The Illuminations is published by McClelland & Stewart. 


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