A novel that leaves me ignoring everything I’m meant to be doing, in favour of compulsively reading on, is a rare treat; The Panopticon is one of those novels. I became utterly absorbed in the world of feisty and smart Anais Hendricks. She’s 15, has never known her parents, and assumes she’s been created by the shadowy “Experiment” who she feels watching her at all times. The book opens with her arrival at the titular Panopticon – a young offenders institute, one step away from prison. Anais is accused of assaulting a police officer who is now in a coma. She doesn’t think she’s guilty – despite the blood on her school uniform and the memory loss caused by her drugs binge. Shown to be more than capable of violence and cruelty, nonetheless Anais is a character with her own moral code, and someone we root for. Trapped in a care system that has proved to be anything but, her reliance on alcohol, sex, and drugs to help blur reality makes absolute sense. Fagan’s prose, somewhat inevitably, reminds me of Irvine Welsh with its depiction of Scottish youth painted in vital, realistic language. Various story strands emerge as Anais forges intense friendships with her fellow inmates, texts her jailed boyfriend, ponders her birth mother’s identity whilst mourning her adopted mother’s murder, as well as outwitting authority. She has a lot to contend with (I’m barely scratching the surface here) and we get to see her many complex layers and understand and empathise with her.
The heart of the novel is a depiction of a society that not only demonises children in care but dehumanises them as well. It’s a thought provoking debut by an exciting writer.
Available to buy here, and of course, elsewhere.