The latest novel received from Blogging for Books this pedometer geek read was Jenni Fagan’s The Sunlight Pilgrims. This is her second novel;her debut novel is The Panopticon, which has not been read by this reader. Based on this reader’s experience, it is just a matter of time before it will come to the top of the list of books to be read. This is the extended review of The Sunlight Pilgrims.
The Sunlight Pilgrims
by Jenni Fagan
Published by Hogarth, 2016
an imprint of Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Random House, LLC
As the book jacket begins: “It’s November 2020, and the world is bracing for what is expected to be the worst winter on record.”
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan is a climate change dystopian/apocalyptic novel, set in Great Britain, primarily in the Scottish Highlands in the village of Clachan Fells. A band of quirky villagers living in a caravan park (what people from the United States would call a trailer park) form a community/family as the snows deepen, icebergs float freely, and temperatures drop precipitously low into what may well become the next Ice Age.
Dylan, rather move south to escape freezing temperatures as most Londoners are doing, travels to Clachen Fells to scatter the ashes of his mother and grandmother. Grieving, he adjusts to a life without his nearest kin. There he meets Constance and her daughter Stella, and they all hunker down, forming a family, becoming the Sunlight Pilgrims over the course of the story.
Wacky family relationships* and what is meant by family/community is explored throughout the novel. Single mother (and survivalist) Constance deals with rearing Stella, who is a girl trapped in a boy’s body (and has chosen to deal with the fallout from bullies when she declares herself female). The author displayed empathy and thoughtful insight into the transgender character(s), and Stella may be the most compelling character in the novel.
As worldwide events become ever more cataclysmic, the villagers, particularly Stella, Constance, and Dylan, experience their own relationships morphing into something new, something light.
A few things that this reader noted and enjoyed. First, the language and descriptions of the climate changes were noteworthy. In only one other novel has this reader ever heard the term frazil ice (the other is in Rob Smith’s Shrader Marks: Keelhouse, but I digress). The author makes the reader feel the cold, experience the deprivations, and live the desolation of the snow relentlessly falling, but she also makes the reader hopeful with the sight of the sun dogs (parahelia), the vision of the aurora borealis, and the explanation of the sunlight pilgrims.
On a personal note, I have to admit that I like the convention of quotation marks for dialogue. Em-dashes used as designating speech made understanding the dialogue between characters difficult especially when it went from dialogue to exposition in the same paragraph. Sometimes it was nearly impossible to figure out who was speaking to whom during any particular conversation; I found it very confusing and annoying (what I disliked about the book). Thus, it took me much longer to read than it normally would, and because of this, I am sure many of the nuances of the story were lost over time.
Quote that I particularly liked:
“There is an ordinariness to their strange.” page 198 (in regards to a relationship)
* I even sketched out a family tree to understand it all.