Set in a Scottish caravan park during a freak winter – it is snowing in Jerusalem, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to arrive off the coast of Scotland – THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS tells the story of a small Scottish community living through what people have begun to think is the end of times.
Bodies are found frozen in the street with their eyes open, euthanasia has become an acceptable response to economic collapse, schooling and health care are run primarily on a voluntary basis. But daily life carries on: Dylan, a refugee from panic-stricken London who is grieving for his mother and his grandmother, arrives in the caravan park in the middle of the night – to begin his life anew.
This book is tough to review. On the one hand, I’m somewhat disappointed because I assumed this book to be about panic and hysteria brought on by the coming ice age. On the other, I’m in awe of what Ms Fagan was able to accomplish here. Although there is an unfair balance between the two plot arches in this book, I was able to appreciate the sentiment.
I’ve always been a fan of apocalyptic books. I’m especially fond of reading (or watching) something close to reality like environmental and natural disasters. The Sunlight Pilgrims is about global warming and how it melted the icebergs. Consequently, it brought a cooling of the oceans, which then created the weather phenomena that would usher in an Ice Age of biblical proportions. But if you’re expecting mayhem and chaos, you’d be disappointed like I was. We don’t see the panic that Hollywood is only too happy to show us in films. We don’t see people hoarding sweaters, food, and firewood. What we see are three people going about their lives not at all worried about the coldest, longest winter they’ll ever have.
In the forefront is Dylan who just lost his mum and gran almost simultaneously. They’d been his life along with a cinema that he’d had to give up because he could no longer afford it. His mum made provisions for him to live in a Scottish caravan community where he would meet Stella and Constance. In Clachan Fells, he hopes to deal with the grief of losing the two people who have been the sum of everything he was. Not knowing anything else but tending to a defunct small theatre would prove to be a struggle.
Constance is a fiercely independent woman who gives zero fucks about the gossips from her neighbours. From a long affair with two men that sometimes overlapped, to her daughter, Stella who once was a boy named, Cael, Constance marched to the beat of her own drum. Stella is transgender on the cusp of puberty. If she ever has any hopes of completing her change, she needs to start taking her hormone pills soon. But the coming ice age might impede the very thing she’d always wished for since she’d become aware of her true self.
These three people are survivors regardless of whether or not they survive what’s coming. Their false fearlessness convinced me that there was nothing to worry about; which is an odd thing to feel considering the scope of the impending doom. The ice age was always in the periphery but the book spotlights humanity above all else. I am a newbie to Jenni Fagan’s writing (though, I own her other book, Panopticon). Well, let me tell you that this woman can write. The poet in her shines through with every beautiful imagery despite the bleakness of the situation. The ending was the kind of ending that left me scrambling and wishing there was more. Definitely more than the Acknowledgement page, that is.