The Sunlight Pilgrims, written by Jenni Fagan, is a complicated look at coming of age at the end of the world. For Stella, a young transgender teenager, life is difficult enough. She’s recently been beaten by a group of former school friends following her transition. While working to get hormone blockers, she also is going up against the worst freeze on record in the UK. Dylan is a thirtysomething who has just lost his mother and maternal grandmother, as well as the theater he ran with them in London. With no where to go, he ends up in a trailer park (or caravan park for this part of the world), and proceeds to fall in love with Stella’s mother and distill gin like his mother used to make. Their lives intertwine in extremely unsettling and unexpected ways.
What makes The Sunlight Pilgrims unique is the slow build of the end of the world, while everything around the characters seems to be life as usual. While the news stations blare dire predictions of the earth freezing itself solid, people go about their daily lives as if nothing is happening. Stella still asks her mom to bring home bananas. People in town still line up on Friday night to get takeaway. It’s the poor and those without shelter who first really see the decline, and even then they do all they can to just keep living a normal life.
There is something profoundly unsettling about The Sunlight Pilgrims. Fagan’s lyrical writing style makes it easy to fall into the story, but there’s always something on the edges of the book that makes you wish you were drinking Dylan’s gin while reading. The end comes suddenly and abruptly, which shook this reader out of her trance.
The Sunlight Pilgrims is now available from Hogarth Publishing.