Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Panopticon

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
Crown Publishing Group: 4/22/2014
Trade Paperback, 320 pages

ISBN-13: 9780385347952
Random House

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’s school uniform 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 counter-culture 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. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.
Named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and the Scotsman, The Panopticon is an astonishingly haunting, remarkable debut novel. In language dazzling, energetic and pure, it introduces us to a heartbreaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction.
My Thoughts:

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan is highly recommended but with a cautionary note that this book is not for everyone.

In The Panopticon we meet Anais Hendricks, a 15 year old who has been in the care system her entire life. She's a chronic offender and being taken to the Panopticon in Midlothian, Scotland. The Panopticon was a former psychiatric hospital and prison that has been turned into an experimental home for chronic young offenders, based on the prison designs of English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. In the Panopticon the buildings are crescent shaped with all rooms visible to a central watch tower that looms large in Anais's mind. Anais has been sent here for putting an officer into a coma.

The world Anais inhabits is awash with drug abuse, physical abuse and violence, but most certainly non-stop f***ing swearing.  Once she is in the Panopticon, she forms a sort of rag-tag very dysfunctional family-like bond with the other troubled teens who are there. Fagan does not mince words or paint a pretty picture with these young displaced disturbed teens. They are all dealing with some horrific issues and problems.

The Scottish dialect Fagan uses didn't bother me and was easy to understand.  And while the chronic drug abuse is disturbing, what really did bother me was what felt like non-stop swearing. The F word is liberally used with abandon, and while that may reflect a certain segment of society and certainly a certain culture, it is decidedly not mine. I managed to struggle and overlook  the profanity simply because the novel is so intriguing and I wanted to try to decode what had happened to Anais.

This is not a YA novel. This is a dark and disturbing, atmospheric novel that will be memorable for those who read it, but the real question is more if they will remember the fierce drug-taking heroine, Anais, or if it will be for the liberal use of the "f" word, along with more British/Scottish slang than I ever knew existed for various body parts and actions. 

While the accolades are huge for this novel, I'm afraid I can only highly recommend it for those who feel they can take on all the baggage that comes along with reading it. While it is a good novel it is not for everyone. (I also would not compare it to Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale.)

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes.

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