Anais Hendricks, 15, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais' school uniform. Smart, funny, and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child, who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met.
The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job for an elephant sanctuary in India but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her birth before she goes. Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: She is part of an experiment, she always was, it's a given, a liberty - a fact. And the experiment is closing in.
In language dazzling, energetic, and pure, The Panopticon introduces us to a heart-breaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction.
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A tough wee lassie...
Inventive use of language; tough and emotionally satisfying.
The exposure of the observers scurrying away.
Her last journey - such hope, and the feeling that she'd succeed.
Her return to the asylum in which she was born.
Almost entirely narrated from Anise's viewpoint this novel fits well with other Scottish writers such as James Kellman and Ali Smith, and further back to the Irish writer Samuel Beckett, though very accessible. As the Panoptican is an observer, so is the author - so questions arise about the craft of fiction. The audio delivery is quite stunning, giving full force to Anise and her pals inventive use of language - but it is Anise's developing psychological maturity and her ultimate ability for self-reflection that enables her to act. You have to tell your own story, and join up all the threads - others cannot do this for you.
- P. J. T. Brown