4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
STUNNING novel...just wish I hadn't read the 'Handmaid's Tale' comparison,
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This review is from: The Panopticon (Kindle Edition)
Literary dystopian novels are a favourite with me - & Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale is in my top five books. So the claim that The Panopticon was in the same vein meant I took much longer to get into the book and enjoy it for what it was. I kept waiting for more evidence of 'the experiment' and examples of how the Panopticon was all-seeing. It wasn't until I realised that the comparison between the two novels was tenuous at best and downright misleading at worst that I really began to appreciate Jenni Fagan's novel on its own terms. Both books do indeed share some characteristics - both are beautifully written, both portray dehumanising environments, But the world inhabited by Anais Hendricks is all too real - not one imaginable in some post-apocalyptic future, but one that far too many young people find themselves in right now.
Anais' psychotropic and trippy musings do make her an unreliable narrator...& there is always the question mark about how real 'the experiment' is, but this is essentially a world deeply rooted in reality as we know it. The dehumanising and dehumanised system is the single biggest factor in making Anais' life so bleak.
While anyone with a social conscience will find this novel deeply disturbing and upsetting, it is not unremittingly bleak. There are moments to make the heart soar - moving snapshots of love and loyalty and genuine peace. All the main characters are very real people and the reader cares deeply about them. Anais is a wonderful protagonist - at fifteen, she has more experience of drugs, sex, loss, rejection and failure than most of us have to bear in a lifetime. She is feisty and loyal, sensitive and intelligent. She is not wilfully evil or cruel - while I was begging her not to make the inevitable mistake, each time she did, I understood why and forgave her. I wanted to hug Angus, one of the Panopticon staff, for seeing the real Anais - the one who was not intrinsically bad but horrendously scarred and damaged by her past.
A seething indictment of what is laughably called the "care" system (far more system than care) it is also a celebration of human strength and love and hope.
Very special - & highlt recommended.