The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
(William Heinemann, 2016)
I have such mixed feelings about this book.
Dylan has just moved from London, after the death of his mother and grandmother, to a caravan park in the north of Scotland. Right at the onset of probably the worst winter in living memory. He falls for his neighbour, the fiercely independent Constantine, and develops a bond with her daughter, Stella. All the while uncovering some of his unsettling family history. And making gin.
Good points: The cover. My goodness, the cover is just beautiful. A triumph.
Depictions of winter. They made me feel cold. Excellent portrayal (if a touch laborious at times). The fierce cold was brilliantly portrayed, and how it dominates every aspect of their day-to-day survival.
Characters. I really liked the three main characters. Dylan just seems like a good guy. Constantine is fun, liberal, unconventional and fiercely protective of Stella. Stella is a thirteen-year-old transgender girl. I really liked that aspect to the story. I haven’t read any novels with such a viewpoint and it was interesting to read about Stella coping with the usual teenage stuff of crushes, a first kiss, and body changes, but all through the very different prism of being transgender. Without the additional strain of puberty, Stella was already dealing (admirably) with bullying and others’ perceptions and attitudes towards her. While Stella sometimes came across as ridiculously articulate for a thirteen-year-old, it was believable, given her mother.
The ending. If what I think happened, happened.
Dislike: It was … boring. The start was interesting, we met Dylan, got his backstory and then he goes on the road. But once he’s met the ladies next door, nothing much happens. There are many descriptions of weather. There’s Stella battling with emotional angst, Constantine dealing with her love life, and Dylan mourning his losses, wooing Constantine, and coping with the family past. That comprises most of the book but it’s not very absorbing. I kept plodding along hoping something would happen.
Then there was the ending, which made me glad I stuck it out. In a way. As I said, mixed emotions.
In essence: well-written, good characters, but kind of boring plot. 2.5/5