The Panopticon: Book summary and reviews of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon

A Novel

By Jenni Fagan

The Panopticon
  • Readers' rating:

  • Published in USA  Jul 2013,
    304 pages.
    Age range: Young Adult


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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review.Told in Anais' raw voice, Fagan's novel peers into the world inhabited by forgotten children, and, in Anais, gives us a heartbreakingly intelligent and sensitive heroine wrapped in an impossibly impenetrable exterior. Readers won't be able to tear themselves away from this transcendent debut." – Booklist

"Starred Review. Anais's ongoing internal dialog, her periodic reimagining of her life and situation, is enthralling...James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late meets Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Not to be missed." – Library Journal

"Anais's story is one of abandonment, loss, and redemption, well suited for a paranoid age in which society finds itself constantly under the microscope." - Publishers Weekly

"Dark and disturbing but also exciting and moving, thanks to a memorable heroine and vividly atmospheric prose…Fagan [paints] her battered characters' fierce loyalty to each other with such conviction and surprising tenderness." - Kirkus Reviews

"Though this will appeal to teenagers, the language and ideas are wholly adult, and the glorious Anais is unforgettable." – The Times

"[A] confident and deftly wrought debut…Her voice is compellingly realised. We cheer her on as she rails against abusive boyfriends and apathetic social workers, her defiance rendered in a rich Midlothian brogue." – Financial Times

"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…Anais's voice is an intricate blend of the demotic and the hauntingly lyrical…As a debut, The Panopticon does everything it should. It announces a major new star in the firmament." – Scotsman

"[The narrator] is engagingly drawn by Fagan, who has created a character possessed of intellectual curiosity and individual quirks…Written with great verve…Fagan has a clear voice, an unflinching feel for the complexity of the teenage mindset, and an awareness of the burden we impose on children." – Scotland on Sunday

"What Fagan depicts in her debut novel, The Panopticon, is a society in which people don't just fall through the net – there is no net…Fagan is writing about important stuff: the losers, the lonely, most of them women. [Anais] maintains a cool, smart, pretty, witty and wise persona." – Guardian (UK)

"An indictment of the care system, this dazzling and distinctive novel has at its heart an unstoppable heroine…Fagan's prose is fierce, funny and brilliant at capturing her heroine's sparky smartness and vulnerability…Emotionally explosive." – Marie Claire

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Diane S.
The Panopticon
Anais is an amazing character, she is now 15 and has been shuffled from one foster home to another, she arrives at the Panopticon because of her suspected part in the severe injury done to a policewoman. At the prison she will meet other youth, just like herself. There is plenty of swearing, drug use and sex, so I can see that this book will not be for everyone. Yet Anais, whose narrative voice takes some getting used to, and her friends have a story that need to be told.

So many of our youth are throwaway kids, and it is a sad state of affairs, in this country as well as others. At times the prevalent drug use serves to slow the narrative down, they are so detailed. This is a maddening book, in that some of the people involved in hers and the others cases are so unsympathetic or maybe just burned out. Maybe seeing too just much makes them less compassionate.

Interesting concept for a book, and I loved the grittiness and toughness of Anais, yet she can still makes friends and despite all she has gone through, can still be compassionate. Would have rated this higher, but I had a problem with the ending. I thought too many strands of the story were left dangling, unexplained. That was frustrating, but I am still very glad to have met Anais.

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Jenni Fagan was born in Livingston, Scotland. She graduated from Greenwich University and won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway MFA. A published poet, she has won awards from Arts Council England, Dewar Arts and Scottish Screen among others. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize, and was named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. The Panopticon is her first novel.

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