Monday, September 4, 2017
Book Review: 'The Sunlight Pilgrims' by Jenni Fagan
“The Sunlight Pilgrims,” by Jenni Fagan, takes place from November 2020-March 2021. The polar caps are melting, and a new Ice Age appears to be imminent. The world’s leaders are unprepared to deal with a catastrophe of this magnitude. Still, some hardy souls stockpile food and warm clothing, prepare fuel to heat their homes, check their generators, and keep a close eye on the forecast. No matter how prepared the survivalists are, however, the fact remains that temperatures are plummeting; major rivers are icing over; people are freezing to death; a huge iceberg is headed towards Scotland; and if spring does not bring a major thaw, Earth could become uninhabitable.
The author focuses on a small group of people, each of whom is wrestling with his or her inner demons. Dylan MacRae is a loner who had an unconventional childhood growing up in an art-house cinema in Soho with his gin-swilling Grandma Gunn and chain-smoking mother, Vivienne. He leaves London and heads for the Orkney Islands. However, he stops at Clachan Fells, where Vivienne had a caravan, and decides to spend time there. One reason to stay is his pretty, independent, and resourceful neighbor, Constance, a charismatic woman to whom he is instantly attracted. Constance’s twelve-year-old daughter, Stella, is a precocious nonconformist who swears frequently (as does everyone else in this book); has gender identity issues; and despises bullies and hypocrites.
Fagan dispenses with quotation marks, using dashes to punctuate her dialogue. There are exotic and unfamiliar words, such as “parhelia,” “moirologist,” and “tannoy” that may send you to a dictionary or Google. The author’s imagery is beautifully imaginative and poetic. In addition, she employs sentence fragments to fine effect and paints unique word pictures. We gradually become immersed in the narrative and grow to care about the central characters. Fagan's unique tale has undeniable elements of sadness and despair, but it should appeal to those who enjoy vivid figurative language and unconventional stories about love and family relationships.
Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.