I received this book free from Blogging for Books, the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Panopticon: A Novel by Jenni Fagan
Published by Hogarth on December 13th 2011
Genres: Mystery, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic
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Also by this author: The Sunlight Pilgrims
Named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists
Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counterculture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.
Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon—they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad-hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. But when she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais realizes her fate: She is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.
‘The experiment are watching.
You can feel them, ay. In the quiet. In the room. Wherever you are-they’re there. That’s a given. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes a wee bit further away; when I want to hurt myself but I dinnae, I can always feel them then. They want me to hurt myself. They’re sick like that. What they really want is me dead.’
Anais, 15 years old, is suspected of assaulting a police officer and while the police complete their investigation she’s taken to The Panopticon for close monitoring. For being so young, Anais has led a shockingly violent life. She never met her birth mother and has been in the foster care system since she was born. Her foster mother was brutally murdered and Anais was the one to find her body. Drugs and alcohol have become par for the course with her and are the reason she can’t remember if she actually did assault that police officer. All she knows is, the tower in The Panopticon watches over everyone, always. Whether that’s simply a paranoid delusion or not remains to be seen.
‘The watchtower windows reflect the sun, and the big bug-eyes stare, and it’s totally obvious that watchtower doesnae even need staff in it; it just watches – all on its own.’
The Panopticon is a wild ride of pure insanity. A crazy combination of A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Scottish style. The Scottish terms will seek to overwhelm you but Google is useful; use it. This story was shocking and heartbreaking, even more so when you find out it’s loosely based on the authors own personal experiences with the foster care system in Scotland. Anais may be a juvenile delinquent but she’s still got morals and that’s what makes her case so heartbreaking. She’s smart, full of wit and has hopes and dreams of living in Paris above a bakery where she’d wake up to the smell of fresh croissants. But since she doesn’t live above a bakery in Paris, she passes the time by playing the ‘Birthday Game’ where she uses her imagination to make up a different life than the one she’s currently leading.
Anais is a prime example of juvenile delinquency but she’s not the only misfit being kept at The Panopticon. There are the girls she befriends: Isla, the HIV-positive mother of twins that cuts herself to try to rid herself of the virus and Tash, her lover who works as a prostitute in order to save up for their own flat. There are lesser sad-cases as well such as the boy who is bullied by everyone including the staff after he is caught raping a dog and another who burned down a special-needs school. Bottom line, this is not a pretty story, but despite its ugliness, it tells the honest story of young people that are beaten down by the system that is intended to keep them safe.