The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan

26 Jun
sunlight pilgrims jenni fagan

FIVE of Five stars

I don’t know in what genre this book belongs. According to plot synopsis I would think sci-fi or dystopian, but really it’s more British Lit, or “Amazing and Beautifully Written Literature”, which is a new category I just made up now.

The story is set just four years into the future, and as far as a dystopia, they aren’t quite there yet. The world is basically the same as ours, they have cars and internet, electricity and cell phones, all the basic infrastructure, and no rioting in the streets. BUT. Global Warming has caused the polar ice caps to melt so much that a new Ice Age has been triggered, and it’s about to start on page one of the book.

So what we have is a cast of three main characters who gradually move from our normal life – or as normal as anyone’s life can be – to preparing for a winter which no one may survive. But no one can really imagine a life in -65F weather, so there is even excitement about viewing the giant iceberg that’s headed right for Clachan Fells, the tiny village in Scotland where they live.

But all this is just the background setting for the relationship between these three characters. We have Dylan, the 6’7″ man who traveled from London to Clachan Fells, to scatter the ashes of his mother and grandmother in the Orkney Islands, where his ancesters are from. He decides to spend the winter in Clachan Fells where his mother has left him a caravan to live, and he meets and becomes close to his neighbors. Constance is the young independent mother with a bad village reputation (she’s had two lovers, simultaneously, without marrying or living with either of them! EGADS!). She desperately loves her 13 year old daughter Stella, whose estranged father lives up the mountain with his own wife. Stella is an amazing character in that she is actually trans, yet the story isn’t necessarily about her being trans; she just IS. We do see the problems and issues she must go through, and it is a heartbreaking and hopeful life that she has, but the book is still about the relationship between the three of them.

As we progress from November 2020 to January 2021 and beyond, the world gets colder and colder, and we meet other villagers such as the beloved alcoholic Barnacle, whose spine has curled his body into the letter C. We watch as Dylan and Constance become closer, and discover the connection they all have with each other.

But first and foremost, the reader just enjoys the beautiful writing. There were many words I had to look up, either because they were more British or Scottish, or they described snow and ice features that this California girl has no knowledge of. Jenni Fagan takes us to a beautiful and eerie Ice Age in the tiny Scottish village, and her descriptions have you completely present in the story. I could see in my mind every detail of the Northern Lights when they arrived, and my imagination can tell you it was an amazing, glorious sight.

You will come to love Stella, and admire Constance, and root for Dylan. You will very very slowly understand the horror that an Ice Age would bring. And you will enjoy every single beautiful word of this book.

Thank you to NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read program for allowing me to review a copy of this book. It’s one of the most wonderfully written books I have read this year.

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