The Panopticon

The Panopticon: A Novel

Pa`nop´ti`con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’] 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. Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: she is part of an experiment, she always was, it’s a given, a liberty – a fact. And the experiment is closing in. In language dazzling, energetic and pure, The Panopticon introduces us to a heartbreaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction.

The Panopticon: A Novel by Jenni Fagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I’ve tried to come up with a way to review this book and the best I’ve been able to figure out is listing what I don’t think this book is, rather than what it is-

~This book isn’t appealing, feasible or entertaining.
~This book isn’t about a girl who beats the system or even the system.
~This book isn’t a thriller or a mystery.
~This book doesn’t have a closure.
~This book doesn’t have very charming characters.

Reasons you might want to avoid this book

~Anais, the MC, is very expressive and indiscreet with her expletives. And I don’t mean a casual ‘fuck’.
~It features many dark and fucked-up stories.
~The reality isn’t pretty.
~Rape, prostitution, wanking, and excessive swearing constitute a whole lot of this book.

This book is the ultimate troll. What with the blurb and cover and all, I expected thriller/dystopic/sci-fi novel. Something within that range. But The Panopticon deals with simple, unblemished going-on’s of an orphan girl’s life, and other people she comes in contact with.

Anais is fucked-up beyond reason, but not actuality. Born in an asylum to a vanished mother, drifting from home to new home, addicted to ‘all the bad things’, she has one more problem to cope up with: the Experiment.

She feels them watching her, reading her, waiting on her. They want her to break and they sure do their damnedest to make that happen. Anais has known about them since she was a kid; she knows she can’t let them find that out. So along with all her trouble, she’s also been living in a panopticon all this time.

As Karen point out in her review, the idea of the setting of the Panopticon-style home had no point really. The stuff with the experiment and the allusion to the greek prison made sense, but the setting was never fully conceptualized.

There’s a whole dismal rainbow of characters, and each one grabbed a fold of my heart. These are just teenagers with problems not bigger than the world’s, but individually it’s so scary. The girls and boys in this book feel so human and teenager-type, they each have their coping methods and it’s not all fun and games. These kids have been run over by life and adults, but you won’t see them paying it any heed. There’s no respite, no silver lining for anybody, you gotta swallow it straight and keep lugging, if you want to move on.

The story isn’t really all that there. It begins with Anais being sent to the panopticon for putting a police woman in coma, and what basically follows(and I’m telling you in unappealing terms, quite unlike this book) is her psyche getting drained. I mean, really. Besides the heartrending characters, whenever we are alone with Anais, there is paranoia, fear and desolation. Every moment hurts.

But Anais is a tough character if there ever was one.

I’m a bit unconvinced by reality, full stop.

There are things I didn’t like, particularly something major that happens to wards the end. At first, I was in a rage at the author for using such an ugly plot device to make the character round up her shit and get her act together. HOWEVER, I realized this was life being consistent in all its inconsistent, fucked-up grandeur.

To say I liked this book would be incomplete, and trying to exactly pinpoint my feelings and fit in a glasscase for you is impossible.

But look, I have written my review!

Also, I have wish: I wanna say this to someone someday, with genuine and unyielding conviction.

I’ve read books you’ll never look at, danced to music you couldnae appreciate, and I’ve more class, guts and soul in my wee finger than you will ever, ever have in your entire, miserable fucking life.

A review copy was provided by the publishers.



2 thoughts on “The Panopticon

  1. I learned about the panopticon when I was in college and it comes up in trivia games every once in a while. Keep this knowledge in your back pocket for later:) Anyway, this sounds like something I might be into. The more fucked up and dismal a book is, the higher the chance I will like it. (meh, more or less) This review if the first time I’ve ever even heard of this book but I think I’ll add it to my TBR. BTW, I can’t stop looking at Tom Mackee on your sidebar. You minx.

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