“It’s November of 2020, and the world is freezing over. Each day colder than the last. There’s snow in Israel, the Thames is overflowing, and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to drift just off the coast of Scotland. As ice water melts into the Atlantic, frenzied London residents evacuate by the thousands for warmer temperatures down south. But not Dylan. Grieving and ready to build life anew, he heads north to bury his mother’s and grandmother’s ashes on the Scottish islands where they once lived.
Hundreds of miles away, twelve-year-old Estella and her survivalist mother, Constance, scrape by in the snowy, mountainous Highlands, preparing for a record-breaking winter. Living out of a caravan, they spend their days digging through landfills, searching for anything with restorative and trading value. When Dylan arrives in their caravan park in the middle of the night, life changes course for Estella and Constance. Though the weather worsens, his presence brings a new light to daily life, and when the ultimate disaster finally strikes, they’ll all be ready.
Written in incandescent, dazzling prose, The Sunlight Pilgrims is a visionary story of courage and resilience in the midst of nature’s most violent hour; by turns an homage to the portentous beauty of our natural world, and to just how strong we can be, if the will and the hope is there, to survive its worst.”
My Thoughts: In a novel in which there is not much in the way of action or adventure, the success of the story hinges on an author’s ability to put readers into the minds and hearts of her characters. Literary elements like setting, style and tone also become important in character-driven novels. Thankfully, Ms. Fagan has a wonderful way with words and is more than capable of creating an intellectual and compelling story. She proved herself in her debut novel and does so again in The Sunlight Pilgrims.
The timing of the release of The Sunlight Pilgrims is quite intriguing. On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine a world turning into a frozen wasteland at the same time we are experiencing record temperatures and massive heat waves across the globe. On the other hand, what better way to cool down than with a book that takes place in unimaginably frigid temperatures. Along the same lines, given the fact that the freezing temperatures in the novel are a direct result of global warming and the melting of polar ice, the timing of the novel’s publication makes sense. For, every day our global temperatures are hotter than normal and every minute more polar ice melts and impacts the oceans’ currents, it brings us closer to this fictional scenario.
Speaking of that, the fictional world of Ms. Fagan’s is simultaneously brutal and gorgeous. Snow and cold temperatures always bring a sparkling clarity to the atmosphere, something Ms. Fagan is able to capture in her descriptions of the Scottish highlands. She brings to the reader the same sense of wonder and awe that fills a child at the first snowfall of the year. At the same time, there is the constant threat of death by hypothermia that forces you to respect Mother Nature. It brings an added tension to the novel as the characters fight for their very survival.
While The Sunlight Pilgrims is undoubtedly a warning about the damage we are doing to our environment, the story is at heart one about relationships. Ms. Fagan, through her characters, explores every type of relationship with delicacy and without criticism. Parent-to-child, child-to-parent, friends, lovers, neighbors, relationships to self, to the thing we call identity and to places we call home – they all drive these characters and the story as they prepare for the worst. The emotional connections among them, as well as the characters themselves are exquisitely written.
The Sunlight Pilgrims is a very quiet novel. The world, and subsequently Estella, Constance, and Dylan, are preparing for the brutal winter and doing everything to make sure they survive. Yet, they are also going about their lives. Bonfire Night still occurs. There are get-togethers and work and chores and the general mundacity of living. There is grief and love, laughter and tears. There is life, and there is death. The pending disaster simply adds a layer of urgency to their lives and an undercurrent of tension to the story. It is an extremely well-written novel as well, bringing a vibrancy to the harsh landscape and a sense of hope to each of the characters. It is a novel that may not be garnering a lot of attention right now but will impress those readers who find it with its bleak and beautiful story.