I tend to read for comfort and relaxation these days. My reasons for picking The Panopticon were to challenge myself as a reader, and as a reviewer. Jenni Fagan has amassed some pretty serious credits as a writer, enough so to assure me that despite the huge variations in reviews of this book by other readers, that the writing would be stellar. It was. It sustained me through an incredibly bleak story of fifteen year old Anais Hendricks, which begins with her in the back of a police car, blood on her dress, accused of attempted murder of a policewoman now in a coma. Anais is headed for The Panopticon, a home for chronic juvenile offenders.
There's not been much that has been good in Anais's life. The number of foster placements she's bounced through is is over 3 times her age. Every adult she's known seems to have failed her, and doesn't look like it's going to get better. But she has carved out some support for herself, not via social workers and such, but through drugs, sex, and living on the sly. This book had more uses of the word fuck thank any other book I have read. It also makes liberal use of other inventive language, some slang that I had to look up, guess, or ask friends from the UK to help translate. Until I caught the rhythm of speech, it was difficult to get into the book. Then, once I found that, the book was difficult to read because of the gritty nature. It was not something I wanted to read at bedtime. But in the light of day, even with all the references to wanking, boaking, conks, rapes and the liberal sprinkling of language I don't normally use, there were some moments in this book that were fabulous. This girl has a horrendous life, but can still come out with observations like:
They dinnae know this, though: I'd die before I'd pick on someone. I would. You dinnae bully people, ever, 'cause all bullies are cowards and I umnay a fucking coward, I never was. (pg 61)The girl has been beaten so often she should be pulp, but she still isn't down; she has her standards and her beliefs, and a kind of scrappy, cynical optimism that kept me reading through some pretty bleak stuff.
So, did I like this book? Not really. Did I like the characters? Yes. Did I like the writing? F--- yes! Would I recommend the read? Only to readers who are willing to take a dark journey.
Many thanks to Blogging for Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book. I'm giving it 4/5 stars, not because it made me feel good, or that I really liked it, but it sure made me think about aspects of our society, and also made me think about what, to an avid reader, makes a book worth reading.
Tags: at-least-the-writing-was-good, blogging-for-books, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-uncomfortable, read, read-for-review,taught-me-something, uncomfortable-reading-but-good, yikes