Review – The Panopticon
Pa`nop�ti`con ( noun). A circular prison with cells so constructed that the prisoners can be observed at all times. [Greek panoptos ‘seen by all’]
Gillian Flynn recently named the five books she thinks everyone should read this summer (well, winter down here). I had just finished Visitation Street which was on her list and because I also thoroughly enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s books I thought I’d give the rest of the list a go.
I started with The Panopticon purely because it was first in my download queue. I didn’t read the blurb and had no idea what the book was going to be about. Most of the list is crime/thriller related but the cover and title of The Panopticon gave me the impression that this might be something a bit paranormal/magical. Boy was I surprised and blown away.
The book is written with a Scottish vernacular but not like Irvine Welsh. You don’t even notice it after a while as you fall into the rhythm of the writing. In fact it helps you get into the rhythm of the words even more easily.
The story is told by Anais Hendricks, a 15 year-old girl. We are right inside Anais’ head but we’re not talking stream of consciousness. She is a troubled young woman who believes she is going mad and that her whole life is part of an experiment. When we first meet her she is handcuffed in the back of a police car. She is accused of bashing a police woman, putting her into a coma. Anais can’t remember the incident but she is pretty sure she didn’t do it despite there being a lot of antagonism between the two of them.
Anais has a history of drugs, violence, theft and destruction. She has been in and out of foster homes since her adopted mother was murdered. But this might be the final straw. The police want Anais sent to secure care, juvenile detention. While the police gather evidence and examine blood found on Anais, she is sent to The Panopticon; a foster care facility that’s more prison than home but where some freedoms still exist. For now.
As Anais settles into her new environment we begin to learn about her troubled past and the trouble she has gotten into an why. We learn about the people who still see her potential and the people who have given up on her. She begins to form strong friendships with the other ‘in mates’ but a series of tragedies and betrayals threatens to tip Anais completely over the edge.
This is a raw and heartbreaking story by a writer whose talents are breathtaking. I feel like I’ve spent the last week inside Anais’ head, an experience both confronting and amazing, and I feel I have met a character who I will never forget.