Jenni Fagan’s THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS
Jenni Fagan’s 2013 debut, The Panopticon, was nothing short of phenomenal. So when I spotted her follow up sitting in the local library I was kicking myself that I’d missed it’s release. I couldn’t wait to see what she’d written next but as always with an author’s second novel there was a little trepidation. Which evaporated with the first sentence. Fagan’s new novel is set four years in the future. The coldest winter in 200 years is about to begin. On the surface this sounds like an end-of-the-world story but despite the extreme weather scenario, which is the novel’s backdrop, Jenni Fagan turns the rest of the story upside down. This is a novel about survival, but not against some extreme weather event, just survival against what life throws up.
Dylan, has fled London headed for the Scottish village of Clachan Falls. He has nothing left but a caravan his recently deceased mother has left him. He plans only to clean the caravan up and sell it but upon meeting the people in the surrounding caravans decides to stay the winter despite the impending snow and ice.
Dylan meets and befriends his neighbours Constance and her daughter Stella, falling in with their daily life, it’s troubles and joys, it’s turmoils and happiness. As the weather becomes increasingly more desperate, the closer the three of them become. Ready to survive whatever comes their way together.
Dylan is trying to deal with the loss of his mother and grandmother as well as his loss of home and work as the family’s business and home was foreclosed. Constance’s lifestyle has semi-ostracised her from the rest of the town but it is her eleven year old daughter’s decision to stop being the boy she was born as, and start her life over as a girl, that has spilt relationships and friendships up in the small village town.
What I loved most about this novel was the way Jenni Fagan puts you inside Stella’s head. This was a quality Fagan demonstrated so well in her first book and does again brilliantly here. Fagan is able to show you the exactly the way Stella feels and what her fears are as she deals with the decision she has made. You are not made to feel that Stella’s choice is dramatic or unusual but in fact quite natural and Fagan makes you instantly emphatic to her and her situation. The extreme winter only makes the way Stella is treated, by her father, by her former friends, only more small minded and petty.
Fagan encases the characters of the caravan park within some of the most beautiful and evocative language I’ve read this year. It felt like every chapter ended with a sentence that takes your breath away and as the snow and ice gets deeper and colder Fagan’s descriptions get more poetic, dramatic and amazing.
Jenni Fagan is an exceptional talent. A writer to be reckoned with who in two novels has shown two distinct sides and styles to her writing. I seriously can’t wait to see where she goes next and have no doubt it will be somewhere very special indeed.
ISBN: 9780099592181 ISBN-10: 0099592185 Classification: Fiction & related items » Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945) Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 20mm) Pages: 320 Imprint: Windmill Books Publisher: Cornerstone Publish Date: 25-Aug-2016 Country of Publication: United Kingdom