Anais Hendricks, 15, 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' 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 heart-breaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction.
©2012 Jenni Fagan (P)2012 Audible Ltd
At first, I passed on this novel because of the few negative reviews - and that was a mistake.
The story opens with Anais, a 15 year-old veteran of the Scottish welfare system, sitting in a police car.
Having spent her life shuffled between foster homes, she is finally being transferred to a prison-cum-juvenile-center for the duration of a police investigation wherein she is the prime suspect. Despite unrelenting outrageous fortune, Anais has not become a blank-eyed waif or mindlessly vicious bully like so many of those around her. While occasionally and astonishingly misguided, she has not sacrificed her sense of self.
It starts: "sometimes I feel like a motherless child" and with a lilting, dreamy tone, Fagan deftly constructs a deeply caring, fierce young girl carving her way through a mean world. This debut author - a poet by trade - imbues her protagonist with an exquisite vulnerability and steely resilience. Anais is a philosopher on psychedelics; she dances lightly between reality and unreality as she tries to survive a prejudiced and casually cruel welfare system.
This novel is not flawless; it's sometimes slow or aimlessly provocative - but Fagan's language, which jumps from supernal to vulgar and back again, makes up for the plot's rough edges.
The narrator too, deserves applause. Her accent (comprehensible, perfect) and pace are absolutely, unreservedly wonderful. She is a seamless fit for Anais.
All told, I'd highly recommend it.
I was first drawn to The Panopticon after reading the synopsis. Right after college I worked with "troubled" kids, first as a Mental Health Associate in a Behavioral Health Center and then as a Behavioral Specialist at an alternative school, and Anais sounded like many of the kids I came into contact with during those years. I worked with kids that had experienced unspeakable childhoods and some that did horrible things, but what I learned from all of them was that each had learned how to survive and cope with the world they lived in the best they could. Many had been let down, time and time again, by those adults and institutions that were supposed to help them and keep them safe and were therefore incredibly suspicious of any that came into their lives. How could anyone blame them for that? This aspect of the story, combined with the mystery of whether or not Anais had harmed the policewoman and what part "the experiment" played in the whole thing, drew me in. While I can't say all my questions were answered by the last page I can say this character-driven story was powerful and heartbreaking, and important reading for anyone trying to understand the mind of children let down by the same society that views them as the problem.
I purchased The Panopticon as an eBook/audiobook combo but ended up listening to the audiobook for the majority of the story. The narrator (Gayle Madine) has a very heavy British accent and this, combined with the profuse slang used, made it difficult at first to keep up with what was happening. Once I got used to this, however, I really enjoyed the inflections and feelings she put into the story. Even with the heavy subject matter being discussed, the lives of these young offenders are infused with humor and love that felt very real and made me hope they would somehow all come out the other side of their tangled young lives happy and healthy (which, of course, is not realistic). While some readers might find the slang, heavy cursing, violent actions and drug use discussed a turnoff, I think it was completely necessary to present this world of damaged and neglected children as realistically as possible.
The majority of the story takes place in Anais's head, which is an interesting perspective as it makes some aspects very fanciful or gritty while also making some of what she tells us unreliable. As the synopsis points out, Anais has been moved around from one home to another since she was a baby and she has developed a long list of habits and rituals to help her cope and control what she can, as I imagine most children in her situation would do. Anais is a remarkable character, clever and sensitive (about certain things at least) but also cynical and desensitized given her experiences. I spent much of the story going back and forth between believing she had severe mental issues - with her believing she is part of an experiment where she is constantly watched and manipulated by unseen people that want to see her locked up for life, panic attacks were she sees faces on the walls and feels like she is shrinking, her inability to remember what happened at the time the policewoman was beaten so badly she ends up in a coma - and feeling like she had a better handle on this world than most adults do. She's caring, abusive, generous, selfish...in other words she is a complex and flawed person like everyone else. It isn't often I come across a character that is as destructive as Anais and that I wholeheartedly cheer for nonetheless, but that is exactly what happened.
My only real issue with The Panopticon was the author's failure to wrap up the various threads she started in the story. Two of the main aspects - the policewoman in a coma and the experiment tracking Anais - sort of drifted off by the end. The reader isn't given any concrete answers to either issue and this made the drama and mystery just sort of deflate for me. There are other more minor threads, like the disappearance of a fellow Panopticon resident and the fate of Anais's incarcerated boyfriend that used her in a most horrible way, that are left unresolved as well. The fate of Anais herself is left somewhat unresolved and, while I can see that the author is leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, I would have preferred a little more resolution when it came to the future of these captivating characters.
Author Jenni Fagan clearly knows how to get inside the heads and hearts of young people who are forced to cope with things that no human should have to cope with and I think she presents these mistreated and neglected children perfectly. The family that develops at the Panopticon is remarkable and I absolutely loved spending time with them. While I would have preferred more concrete resolutions, those readers that enjoy drawing their own conclusions will revel in the material given. I won't soon forget Anais or her compatriots and I will definitely watch for more novels by Ms. Fagan.
Absolutely loved every minute of this book. The characters are rich and engaging, and their voices ring effortlessly true. The book is full of emotion and is thought provoking- it stayed with me long after I put it down. The author manages to find beauty and hope in a very bleak reality. Beautifully written. The book makes for perfect listening material and I adored Gayle's narration.
I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I have 5 grown children, play ukuele exercise, and read.
I downloaded this book as it was the monthly book of the month selection for the Arizona Republic, our local newspaper. Let's start with the reader. She whispers. She clearly forgot that most people listen in their cars, and cars have noise, air conditioning etc. Then her accent is so heavy that half the time, I could not even understand what she was saying. The next thing is that the F-bomb is used in almost every single sentence. I'm not a prude, but that is just not necessary.
Now, let's talk about the lack of a plot. I'm just starting book #2. Candidly, I'm waiting for my points to post and I'll just quit this horrible book. The main character is just boring. The plot is non-existent, and the Reader makes it even worse.
Cut the accent down and speak louder. I think the accent is great, but her's is so thick that it's just not understandable.
Accent too think, and she needs to speak up!
All of them. I did not ever relate or care about one character.
Save your points, and buy something else.
"Sadly a believable story"
Anais is a bright, tough, young girl who's been let down by the authorities; ok she's no saint, but she knows right from wrong and now she's struggling with adolescence, an over active imagination and a terrible drug habit! Sadly, this is a believable story and I really felt for Anais.
Well done Gayle Madine for the perfect telling!
This is a book that I think I may not have read in book form, but enjoyed so much as an audio book. Wonderful narration. It is a disturbing story about a teenager who has had a lousy life and is constantly in trouble with the law. The sort of person who may repel most of us. As the story unfolds, her 'good' side and humanity starts to unfold and all the characters we meet in the Panopticon are well-rounded and beautifully drawn. Eventually, to my amazement, I found myself gunning for her to get away with her crimes, and even laughing sometimes at things she did! I also found it intensely sad and worrying that life treats people in this way, with no seeming hope for them for the future. My four star, rather than five star rating for the story is because I felt that the end was somewhat unsatisfactory, but this is a small quibble. In no way did it spoil the overall story for me, which will live with me for a long time.
"wow, superb but unsettling"
Anais, walks the walk, talks the talk and tries to convince both us and herself that she is incontrol of both her surroundings and destiny. Tough ,capable of harsh words and actions she also has a strong moral compass and a soft underbelly. She simply is a victim and I felt I was on her side the whole time and I was left astonished and saddened nevermind sickened when she relents to see the mysterious Jay, looking for a semblance of love, looking for what we all take for granted, to be wanted, cared for. Made me think about mind made up prejudices that we all carry. How can someone be so vile and offensive but blameless at the same time.Not for faint hearted folk!
The narrator really brings author's spiky first-person protagonist to life as a living, breathing person. Anaïs is fascinating; worth the price of admission all by herself in my opinion, so it's a nice bonus to find that almost all the main characters are all equally well-drawn and voiced.
Despite about a star's worth of imperfections (the 'Experiment' theme was overdone in my opinion and the treatment of one character in particular was strangely incongruous) at times I found myself completely unable to stop listening to Anaïs' harsh but humorous tale.
"Thought I'd found a real corker! I hadn't"
The reader was great
I had forgotten about this book so when I started listening I got quite excited about the setting what I thought would be a nice gritty book.
The way it is written is pretty good and I liked the style but sadly very little actually happens and I really didn't give a monkey's about any of the characters.
I found myself seeing how long was left more than once and decided that if I was just wishing it was over it was time to move on.
"A tough wee lassie..."
Inventive use of language; tough and emotionally satisfying.
The exposure of the observers scurrying away.
Her last journey - such hope, and the feeling that she'd succeed.
Her return to the asylum in which she was born.
Almost entirely narrated from Anise's viewpoint this novel fits well with other Scottish writers such as James Kellman and Ali Smith, and further back to the Irish writer Samuel Beckett, though very accessible. As the Panoptican is an observer, so is the author - so questions arise about the craft of fiction. The audio delivery is quite stunning, giving full force to Anise and her pals inventive use of language - but it is Anise's developing psychological maturity and her ultimate ability for self-reflection that enables her to act. You have to tell your own story, and join up all the threads - others cannot do this for you.
This was totally different to anything I've read or listened to before and I wasn't sure if I would like it or not.
The story though seems believable one about a troubled girl.
This isn't light listening and requires you to be in the mood.
I normally listen to chick romance type novels they don't require much thought, but this was much deeper.
"Tragic and yet very true."
A real look at how the youth live today. A very sad tale and told very well.
"Uplifting? Not quite."
This book is so relentlessly harrowing and bleak, and so filled with expletives that the BBC will probably make it into a mini-series, saving the gang-rape scene for broadcast on Christmas Day 2013. The woman who narrates it does an absolutely brilliant job.
"A real disappointment"
I tried several times to get into this book but finally had to accept defeat. The topic of a 15 year old girl who lacked respect for herself and others and who was constantly breaking the law was of interest to me. However, the use of excessively course language and vocabulary unique to teenagers made it difficult for me to fully understand all that I was hearing. This was made even more difficult by the narrator's lovely Scottish accent, which would normally have been a pleasure to listen to, but on this occasion made the language even more inaccessible.
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