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. 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.
Praise for The Panopticon
A WATERSTONE’S 2012 BEST DEBUT FICTION PICK
‘If you’re trying to find a novel to engage a determinedly illiterate teenager, give them this one. Anais, the 15-year-old heroine and narrator, has a rough, raw, joyous voice that leaps right off the page and grabs you by the throat…This punkish young philosopher is struggling with a terrible past, while battling sinister social workers. 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…The Panopticon is an example of what Martin Amis has called the “voice novel”, the success of which depends on the convincing portrayal of an idiosyncratic narrator. In this Fagan excels…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…There are moments which are genuinely distressing to read, which return the reader to a painful sense of how mindlessly and unspeakable cruel people can be. But it is marbled with cynical, smart comedy…Fagan is exceptionally skilful with bathos, a notoriously difficult literary register; here, however, it manages to be funny and heart-breakingly tender at the same time…Naturalistic and pleasingly oblique. Life, as Stevenson said, is “infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant”. To render this novelistically is a rare achievement…The Panopticon appeals to writers since in some ways the novelist is the prison’s arch-overseer, able to look into the minds of the characters. But that comes with a duty: to keep your eyes open even when you’d rather shut them. Fagan is gloriously open-eyed about immaturity, maturity, sexuality, crime, dispossession and more. Her ability to capture the cross-currents of language, the impersonations of consciousness, is admirable…As a debut, The Panopticon does everything it should. It announces a major new star in the firmament.’ -Stuart Kelly, 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…What’s intriguing here – particularly in a Scottish fiction landscape that can display too much of the plodding everyday – is her effort to lift the story of teen misadventure into a heightened realm of intellectual aspiration and quasi-sci-fi notions of sinister social change.’ -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
‘Reminiscent of Girl, Interrupted…The novel is as bold, shocking and intelligent as its central character…The institutional details (magnolia walls, screwed-down chairs) anchor The Panopticon in realism, giving it a greater bite. Much of Anais’ life is the stuff of tabloid shock stories and The Panopticon’s strength lies in giving you an insight into the lonely, damaged girl behind the headlines…This week’s winner.’ -Stylist
‘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
‘Fagan's writing is taut and controlled and the dialogue crackles.’ The Herald
‘This is the best debut I’ve read this year...and all because of the character of Anais, who is one of the best narrators I have ever come across. An essential read.’ Living North
Jenni Fagan is the real thing, and The Panopticon is a real treat: maturely alive to the pains of maturing, and cleverly amused as well as appalled by what it finds in the world.’ -Andrew Motion
‘Ferocious and devastating, The Panopticon sounds a battle-cry on behalf of the abandoned, the battered, and the betrayed. To call it a good novel is not good enough: this is an important novel, a book with a conscience, a passionate challenge to the powers-that-be. Jenni Fagan smashes every possible euphemism for adolescent intimacy and adolescent violence, and she does it with tenderness and even humour. Hats off to Jenni Fagan! I will be recommending this book to everyone I know.’ -Eleanor Catton, author of The Rehearsal
‘This is a wonderful book – gripping and brilliant. Anais’s journey will break your heart and her voice is unforgettable. Bursting with wit, humanity and beauty as well as an unflinching portrayal of life as a ‘cared for’ young adult, this book will not let you go.’ -Kate Williams
"Best debut novel I've read this year." -Irvine Welsh
"Uncompromising and courageous...one of the most cunning and spirited novels I’ve read for years. The story of Anais, a fifteen-year-old girl blasting her way through the care-home system while the system in turn blasts her away to nothing, looks on the surface to be work of a recognizable sort, the post-Dickensian moral realism/fabulism associated with writers like Irvine Welsh. But Fagan’s narrative talent is really more reminiscent of early Camus and that this novel is a debut is near unbelievable. Tough and calm, electrifying and intent, it is an intelligent and deeply literary novel which deals its hope and hopelessness simultaneously with a humaneness, both urgent and timeless, rooted in real narrative subtlety." Ali Smith, TLS – books of the year