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The Panopticon: A Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 322 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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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.
After reading the sample and then looking at the reviews I was quite surprised by the readers who were so vehement in their dislike of the novel.
To be fair, I did find some of the colloquial language challenging at times, but I much prefer something different and interesting than someone who fills the pages with four adjective descriptive terms which equate to "he's hot." or whatever.
This reminded me somewhat of, i think, The Color Purple. The initial pages are challenging because the author is a fledgling writer and reader and the case, spelling and grammer reflect a child-like understanding of language. The pace and prose of Panopticon is much as I would expect of a teenage girl institutionalized for the greater portion of her life. It reflects the lack of access to good education which is necessary to articulate well and with the descriptive terms of, say, a college professor or someone similar.
There were a number of readers who did not like Anais. It is not clear to me why being likeable reflects so negatively on the story. It is a story and again, I imagine her to be much like a child brought up in her circumstance would be. She is defensive, and given her exposure to so many different street drugs including hallucinogenic ones she spends a good deal of time questioning her sanity. I mean, I don't do drugs, but I can certainly wax poetic on the existence of man and my place in the universe.
So, did I like her? No, not so much. Could I like her. I think so. I am afraid I would most likely be one of those she views with hostility and distrust because I just don't know how to help someone so damaged by the system. We are provided with a glimpse of at least one case worker who "gets it" and with whom she seems to be building rapport. That also seems fair as so few people "get" anything, why not this as well.
There is also quite a lot of patter about the use of swear words in the book. While I am not comfortable with dropping f-bombs and the other colorful words to express frustration, I again see this much more in line with the environment this girl was raised in. A deep and rich vocabulary is the privilege of a classroom education and a love of reading. While Anais is street smart she cannot deal with the traditional school setting.
On another level language has meaning only when we allow it to. What is it about certain words that make us cringe and others bring us to tears or others make us guffaw and snort with laughter. My impression is the characters in this story do not see the words they use to be any more or any less expressive or appropriate or inappropriate than any other word. I love words and I love alliteration, but again that is partly due to my background and love of reading. This was not a gift allowed the majority of characters in this story.
I found Anais to be much like I imagine we all are, someone who is a complicated mix of positive and negative attempting to make it through a complex and bewildering set of scenarios and continually disappointed by those who should be or should have been there to protect her as a child. By the end of the story I could not pity her as she proved herself to be clever, resourceful and driven towards a positive outcome. I can honestly say I would like to hear more of what happens to her beyond the close of this story.
Reading the book was enjoyable and I look forward to additional books by this author.
This book will be difficult for many people to read. It is written in British slang and many words I had to look up to understand exactly what she was trying to say. Luckily I read it on my Kindle and I am able to do that easily.
This author managed to make a very dark book based on a very disturbing story seem hopeful and at the end magical. There are many parts that leave you scratching your head thinking 'really? A 15 year old is doing this?'
I started it and could not put it down. Those of you who like a very complex, sometimes dark but character rich story will love this book. Those of you who like more of a cozy or straight forward novel will probably not.
There are many disturbing chapters in this novel dealing with profanity,incest, rape, crime etc.
Fantastic book from a new author. I look forward to her next amazing novel.