Fiction Panopticon

Published on May 27th, 2012


The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

| Press reviews | Buy the book | Have your say |

Blurb: Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders.She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform. Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job for an elephant sanctuary in India but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her birth before she goes. (Canongate)

Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

It is the most assured and intriguing first novel by a Scottish writer that I have read in a decade, a book which is lithely and poetically written, politically and morally brave and simply unforgettable. To give some indication of the maturity of this novel, I should confess that initially I had one or two queries about certain decisions about style and plotting; which, on reflection, I increasingly saw as strengths – and very meaningful strengths – rather than weaknesses.

Read full review

James Urquhart, The Financial Times

Anais’s fierce if warped honesty challenges superficial perceptions of criminal responsibility. And the revelation of how Anais sees herself gives a sharp twist to a tale that is punchy and startlingly accomplished.

Read full review

Tom Shone, The New York Times

“Fagan plugs into our fears of youth brutalized by the very system that is supposed to care for it, while upending those fears with a heroine who would rather choke than ask for our pity: “I hate saying please,” Anais tells us. “It makes me feel cheap. I hate saying thank you. I hate saying I need anything.” But Fagan’s voice is her own, a pure descant, rising from the fray like a chorister in a scrum.”

Read full review

Kate Saunders, The Times

This punkish young philosopher is struggling with a terrible past, while battling sinister social workers. Though this will appeal to teenagers, the language and ideas are wholly adult, and the glorious Anais is unforgettable.

Read full review

The Scotsman

The narrative dynamism implied by the high concept of an inescapable, all-seeing prison doesn’t come through in the text. Without much of a plot goal, barring Anais’ escape or otherwise from the possibly fabricated charge of assault on a police officer, the story is mostly vignettes of youthful sex-and-drugs depravity, written with great verve but a touch on the familiar side.

Read full review

Lucy Ellmann, The Guardian

Fagan is writing about important stuff: the losers, the lonely, most of them women. And she’s good on Sumo Baby Championships on TV, and masturbation (“you cannae trust folk that dinnae wank”): life, in other words. The only trouble is, like many a prison memoir, it’s all couched in a solipsistic present-tense first-person monologue. Dotted with intermittent touches of Lothian-speak, the voice sometimes falters, becoming too knowing and pedantic, or drifts into social work diagnoses, statistics, newspaper stories and other crude forms of explanation that drain the life out the story. 

Read full review

David Evans, The Financial Times

The Panopticon is an example of what Martin Amis has called the “voice novel”, the success of which depends on the convincing portrayal of an idiosyncratic narrator. In this Fagan excels: though Anais displays a somewhat implausible precocity – she delivers pithy witticisms on Frida Kahlo and pre-Raphaelite fashion – her voice is compellingly realised.

Read full review

Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if The Panopticon, like these adolescents, falls through the cracks. As an older, grislier version of Louis Sachar’s Holes, it’s too graphic for all but the most liberal high schools. And despite some extraordinary critical praise here and abroad, adult readers are likely to find Fagan’s polemical impulse a bit obvious, her emotional trajectory too well-traveled. That right-thinking people really should love this novel isn’t quite enough to make me love it.”

Read full review

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“With Anais, Ms. Fagan has created a feisty, brass-knuckled yet deeply vulnerable heroine, who feels like sort of a cross between Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and one of Irvine Welsh’s drug-taking Scottish miscreants from Trainspotting or Skagboys. Her novel is by turns gritty, unnerving, exhausting, ferocious and occasionally pretentious … These efforts to make Anais’s story signify something larger can be clunky and labored — a force-feeding of allusions to classics like Kafka’s Trial, Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork Orange and Orwell’s 1984.”

Read full review

Buy the book

Amazon | Foyles | Hive | Waterstones

[AMAZONPRODUCT= 0434021776]

Share Button
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan The Omnivore



Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Back to Top ↑