Review-ish: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan


‘Identity problem? I dinnae have an identity problem – I dinnae have an identity, just reflex reactions and a disappearing veil between this world and the next.’

To start this post, I have to say, major big up’s to Splott Library, part of Cardiff Libraries. All three books reviewed so far were picked up on a whim whilst browsing the shelves at my local-to-work library, with one eye on trying to avoid the authors I usually go for. They don’t have the largest range in the world, but I am enjoying the new-ness of it all. The message here is that even if you CAN afford to buy books new, please go out and use your local library so those who can’t access these amazing books, have the chance. Check your book-privilege.

Last night, my adult boyfriend (co-habiting life-partner, I dunno) asked me if I liked this book. I found that really hard to answer. I think part of it is because I really hate to dislike a book. I’m ok with absolutely hating something (looking at you, American Psycho), but if there’s a redeeming feature, I will find it, and there’s much about this that I liked; the hard Scottish dialect (flashbacks of Trainspotting), the message of the book, the well-developed central character. But there’s a lot I struggled with as well.

Like a few others who reviewed this book on Goodreads, I found the name of the institution The Panopticon, and the fact that Anais actually finds good friends and support systems there to be quite dissonant. Someone else mentioned that its beyond implausible that a social services institution would house children in a building designed for cruelty but I could look past that.

I always struggle with books that rely on shocking the reader to make a point. I think that there are very clever authors out there who manage to raise very important issues and/or discuss terrible subjects without needing to be explicit. I think it just felt like quite an onslaught of misery and tragedy; a microcosm of a larger, very broken system. BUT this is a very personal response. I think other readers may have a better tolerance for this than me so don’t be put off. I have to watch the Care Bears after each episode of The Wire.

All in all, it’s a good read that I smashed through very quickly (skim-reading the hard bits, again. Naughty) that you would enjoy if you like Irvine Welsh or Melvin Burgess, with the caveat that this is in no way Young Adult fiction, even if it reads like it at first. After a quick browse of her other books, I would definitely try others. Anyone have any thoughts on shock tactics in fiction? Anyone had a good sandwich today? Comments below please.


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