THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS by Jenni Fagan
Kirkus Star

THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There are three suns in the sky and it’s minus 6 degrees in Britain as Fagan’s gently apocalyptic new novel opens in November 2020.

The polar ice caps are melting and there's a prediction for 10 feet of snow, temperatures down to minus 40, and an iceberg heading toward the Scottish coast, but even in these extreme circumstances, Fagan depicts the band of misfits assembled in the harbor town of Clachan Fells with the same warmth she invested in the teenage outcasts of her ambitious, exciting debut, The Panopticon (2013). Dylan has just arrived from London, where the art cinema run by his family for 60 years has gone broke. He’s brought the ashes of his recently deceased mother and grandmother to this remote town, planning to scatter them on the nearby Orkney Islands, his grandmother’s birthplace. The grieving Dylan quickly becomes infatuated with Constance, a free-spirited single mother disdained by the town for her longtime simultaneous affairs with two men, and her 12-year-old daughter, Stella, who 13 months ago was a boy named Cael. Constance is helpless to protect her trans daughter from bullying at school, but in the caravan homes along Ash Lane she barely stands out among the porn star, Satan-worshipping stoners, and the man waiting for aliens to land. This oddball community digs in as the thermometer plummets through the winter, Stella tries to get hormone blockers, and Constance slowly succumbs to Dylan’s puppylike (although decidedly carnal) devotion. Not a whole lot happens, really, but that may be the point, as Fagan suggests humanity is capable of adapting to almost anything. The frozen landscape is as beautiful as it is menacing in Fagan’s evocative descriptions, and the vast snowstorm that closes the novel finds Dylan, Stella, and Constance safe and warm inside…for now. Tales of “sunlight pilgrims” from the north lyrically reinforce the author’s theme that the struggle for survival can be joyful.

More fine work from this gifted Scottish writer.

Pub Date: July 19th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-553-41887-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hogarth/Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2016




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