Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I may be jumping the gun here--since I'm actually not sure whether or not Alex Shakar has received the advance copies of his new novel Luminarium or not--but I happen to have visual proof that copies are stacked up and ready to ship. Here, in all their solid, hard-bound splendor, are copies of the book, sitting in the offices of Soho Press, the book's publisher:

I've pre-ordered a copy and can't wait to get my paws on it. I read this book in a penultimate draft, in my capacity as department head, a year or so ago. I expected to be reading it as work--that is, I was expecting to maintain the kind of evaluative distance I keep when reading works of schoalrship. Instead, I found myself reading it for pure pleasure before long. In the end, even though I was reading it in a clumsily-bound typescript, I would up thinking it was one of the best novels I had read all year. The book went through another round of revisions after that, so I expect the version I read bound later this summer to be even better. Hence my excitement.

I fully expect this book to be A Big Deal. Earlier this summer, I posted here about a starred, pre-publication review in Publishers Weekly. Here is bit from another starred, early review, this time from Booklist:

"In his long-awaited second novel after the razor-sharp The Savage Girl (2001), Shakar takes measure of our post-9/11 existential confusion in a technology-avid but sciencephobic, ‘ever-complexifying world.’ A radiantly imaginative social critic, Shakar is also a knowledgeable and intrepid explorer of metaphysical and neurological mysteries. With beguiling characters trapped in ludicrous and revelatory predicaments, this is a cosmic, incisively funny kaleidoscopic tale of loss, chaos, and yearning."

I've pasted that in from the Soho Press page dedicated to the book, where you can place an order, read an excerpt, and see other blurbs and a plot synopsis.

Here, also pasted in, is the synopsis, though I have to say that I really don't think plot summary does this particular novel justice at all. It leaves out everything that makes this novel great: the quality of the prose, the pacing, the shifts in tone between earnest and cynical, the quality of observation and description, and so on. Anyway, here goes:


Fred Brounian and his twin brother, George, were once co-CEOs of a New York City software company devoted to the creation of utopian virtual worlds. Now, in 2006, as two wars rage and the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, George is in a coma, control of the company has been wrenched away by a military contracting conglomerate, and Fred is broke. Near despair, he’s led by an attractive woman, Mira, to a neurological study promising “peak” experiences and a newfound spiritual outlook on life. As the study progresses, lines between subject and experimenter blur, and reality becomes increasingly porous. Meanwhile, Fred finds himself caught up in what seems at first a cruel prank: a series of bizarre emails and texts that purport to be from his comatose brother.

Moving between the research hospitals of Manhattan, the streets of a meticulously planned Florida city, the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the uncanny, immersive worlds of urban disaster simulation; threading through military listserv geek-speak, Hindu cosmology, the maxims of outmoded self-help books and the latest neuro-scientific breakthroughs, Luminarium is a brilliant exploration of the way we live now, a novel that’s as much about the role technology and spirituality play in shaping our reality as it is about the undying bond between brothers, and the redemptive possibilities of love."

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