The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan seems to be one of the books people in the know are raving about. And it must be noted that they have been raving about it since 2012 when she was named one of the Waterstones Eleven. It deserves this attention and so much more. Fagan is truly one of the best young writers of our time.
The Panopticon recounts the story of Anais Kendricks, a teen who has spent her life thoroughly embroiled in the Scottish child welfare system. She is on her last chance after numerous run ins with the police, the last of which has left an officer in a coma. Drugs, thieving, violence they are all part of her repertoire, just as neglect and abuse are part of her past.
Given all of this, one might be lead to believe that The Panopticon is a desperate and depressing novel, but it’s not. That’s the thing about Fagan’s writing and storytelling. Her characters are still very human; they can love and make mistakes just like the rest of us. When I fist heard of The Panopticon I thought it sounded interesting, but to dark and gritty for me. There are disturbing aspects of the novel, but overall it was not a depressing read, it was just very real. I can say that i truly loved it and will be waiting for whatever Fagan does next.
Who would like this book? I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes great debut fiction. The Panopticon has an edge to it that one often finds in books by young, hot writers. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson is similarly edgy. As a writer, I would group Fagan together with the likes of Lisa O’Donnell (Closed Doors) and Jenn Ashworth (The Friday Gospels). All three present an unflinching look at life in the UK.