THE PANOPTICON (for other book reviews please scroll down the screen).
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The patron saint of Literary Street Urchins.
Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon (Heinemann) is not just uncompromising and courageous, I think it’s one of the most cunning and spirited novels I’ve read for years. The story of Anais, a fifteen-year-old girl blasting her way through the care-home system while the system in turn blasts her away to nothing, looks on the surface to be work of a recognizable sort, the post-Dickensian moral realism/fabulism associated with writers like Irvine Welsh. But Fagan’s narrative talent is really more reminiscent of early Camus and that this novel is a debut is near unbelievable. Tough and calm, electrifying and intent, it is an intelligent and deeply literary novel which deals its hope and hopelessness simultaneously with a humaneness, both urgent and timeless, rooted in real narrative subtlety.
It is the most assured and intriguing first novel by a Scottish writer that I have read in a decade, a book which is lithely and poetically written, politically and morally brave and simply unforgettable. As a debut, The Panopticon does everything it should. It announces a major new star in the firmament.
The term ‘stunning debut novel’ doesn’t even begin to cover The Panopticon. Each pages sparkles with the ebullient and sinister magic of great storytelling, culminating in the same impact as the first books of Kelman, Gray and Warner. An utterly magnificent achievement.
A brilliant, raw, wonder of a book — read it right away!
O – THE OPRAH MAGAZINE by GILLIAN FLYNN
This book isn’t a whodunit … it’s more about unease, set in a slightly futuristic world and told from the point of view of a teenage girl who is taken to a place called The Panopticon. It’s in the Margaret Atwood/The Handmaid’s Tale vein — very literary and suspenseful.
Written with great verve and brio …. An astonishing debut, I have a feeling that Fagan is a name we will hear more of.
Anais’s ongoing internal dialog, her periodic reimagining of her life and situation, is enthralling…James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late meets Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Not to be missed.”
Ferocious and devastating, The Panopticon sounds a battle-cry on behalf of the abandoned, the battered, and the betrayed. To call it a good novel is not good enough: this is an important novel, a book with a conscience, a passionate challenge to the powers-that-be. Jenni Fagan smashes every possible euphemism for adolescent intimacy and adolescent violence, and she does it with tenderness and even humour. Hats off to Jenni Fagan! I will be recommending this book to everyone I know.’
WE LOVE THIS BOOK
The Panopticon is a sinister, powerful novel that stays with you long after the final chapters. Fagan gently draws out the childish underside to her savage heroine in this challenging but vitally important debut novel.
OBSERVER Books of the Year
The great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector once wrote that she wanted her writing to be like a punch in the stomach to her readers, “for life is a punch in the stomach”. This year the life in Jenni Fagan’s debut novel, The Panopticon, knocked the breath out of me.
Told in Anais’ raw voice, Fagan’s novel peers into the world inhabited by forgotten children, and, in Anais, gives us a heartbreakingly intelligent and sensitive heroine wrapped in an impossibly impenetrable exterior. Readers won’t be able to tear themselves away from this transcendent debut.
An indictment of the care system, this dazzling and distinctive novel has at its heart an unstoppable heroine … Fagan’s prose is fierce, funny and brilliant at capturing her heroine’s sparky smartness and vulnerability …. Emotionally explosive!
Selected for Marie Claire’s This Months Best Books.
HOUSE OF BETTY
To say that I couldn’t put this fantastic gem down is a cliche and absolutely true. Each and every character was so uniquely crafted, yet eerily similar to kids I met, growing up that they added depth to this brazen and raw reality like I have never read before. Rarely am I so deeply immersed in another’s life and pain and love that I care desperately about their success and happiness. This novel gave me all of that.
‘Jenni Fagan is the real thing, and The Panopticon is a real treat: maturely alive to the pains of maturing, and cleverly amused as well as appalled by what it finds in the world.’
STYLIST (Book of the Month)
The novel is as bold, shocking and intelligent as its central character.
Sparingly and cleverly written, with poetic passages, The Panopticon is a yarn that makes one hungry for more from the same author.
Controversial, puzzling, and unforgettable.
This punkish young philosopher is struggling with a terrible past, while battling sinister social workers. Though this will appeal to teenagers, the language and ideas are wholly adult, and the glorious Anais is unforgettable.
FOR BOOKS SAKE 5*
Anais Hendricks, a fierce and irrepressible narrator with a vivid and original voice, like going on a joyride with Irvine Welsh‘s teenage sister while off your face on amphetamines. The Panopticon is as memorable and exhilarating as its narrator.
This is a wonderful book — gripping and brilliant. Anais’s journey will break your heart and her voice is unforgettable. Bursting with with, humanity and beauty as well as an unflinching portrayal of life as a ‘cared for’ young adult, this book will not let you go.
I’m reminded of “Nausea” and “L’Etranger” more than anything. But the spirit of Jenni’s novel, of her protagonist, struck me as more victorious than either Camus or Sartre’s novels. Anais doesn’t care that there’s no God or that she feels a bit sick; she just wants a train ticket out of Scotland, rather than a tangible point to it all. The world still excites her. “The Panopticon” treads just right the fine line between impassioned anarchy and elegant control. Jenni Fagan is not only victoriously, wickedly honest, but also a brilliant stylist. Cathartic and nurturing, incredibly funny and victoriously escapist, there is really no doubt about it – “Panopticon” is a triumph – and an anarchic, endearing one at that.
Fagan is writing about important stuff: the losers, the lonely, most of them women. Yet she (Anais Hendricks) maintains a cool, smart, pretty, witty and wise persona. Her salvation is a given.
A novel that leaves me ignoring everything I’m meant to be doing, in favour of compulsively reading on, is a rare treat; The Panopticon is one of those novels.
Fagan’s writing is taut and controlled and the dialogue crackles.
The heroine – or anti-heroine – of The Panopticon is a creature as rare in literature as the Cyclops. How often do you encounter a novel where a young working class Scottish woman is at its centre? Jenni Fagan brings her motley crew of delinquents and care system outcasts to life with a verve and authenticity that breaks new ground for Scottish literature. This book is important, vital, and packs a serious punch. I dare anyone to devour this novel and not only enjoy it but immediately start pestering friends to read it too.
A confident and deftly wrought debut … Her voice is compellingly realised. We cheer her on as she rails against abusive boyfriends and apathetic social workers, her defiance rendered in a rich Midlothian brogue.
Buy this book. Read this book. Then go find someone who pontificates about “feral youths” and “something for nothing culture. And batter them with this book. Or just buy a copy for every 18 year old in the country and campaign to have it put on the curriculum.
THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Fierce and clear-eyed. Her images are shot through with lyric beauty. Fagan does not use metaphor as poetic immunity for her characters or her readers. The novel leaves them — and us — in a deeply troubling and unresolved moment. The world looks like a place of our darkest imagination, but it is all too real.
SCOTTISH REVIEW of BOOKS, BOOKS of THE YEAR — HANNAH McGILL
Confirms her as a stupendously gifted & important voice…This writer is great on love, lust…sensory detail & on vivid characterisation. You live in her world and feel reluctant – despite its problems – to leave it.
THE SKINNY — BEST BOOKS of 2016 ALAN BETT
Fagan’s characters are like no other; fully formed human beings, beautifully webbed with the cracks of imperfection.
She summons the mysticism of nature to elevate everyday experiences to the titanic levels of a Tarkovsky set piece: the climbing of a mountain as clouds roll across its summit, a solitary bike ride through a snow enveloped landscape.
TOR.COM — BEST BOOKS Of 2016 JARED SHURIN
In Jenni Fagan’s The Sunlight Pilgrims, ordinary people are quietly trying to get on with life as the snow falls around them. Forever. Like her gorgeous debut, The Panopticon, Fagan’s ability to highlight the extraordinary buried in the everyday is on full display, as is her glorious use of language. A heart-breaking saga of small triumphs against an apocalyptic background.
Some of the most beautiful and evocative language I’ve read this year. It felt like every chapter ended with a sentence that takes your breath away and as the snow and ice gets deeper and colder Fagan’s descriptions get more poetic, dramatic and amazing.
Jenni Fagan is an exceptional talent. A writer to be reckoned with who in two novels has shown two distinct sides and styles to her writing. I seriously can’t wait to see where she goes next and have no doubt it will be somewhere very special indeed.
Fagan’s keen ear for crackling dialogue that betrays a bittersweet depth. And her imagery is sumptuous. Disarmingly subtle.
A story about the end of the world in prose that’s tragic and comic, tender and fierce. It’s language that knows more or less what Emily Dickinson meant way back in 1848 when she wrote to her friend, Abiah, ‘…but it is hard for me to give up the world’.
The Sunlight Pilgrims is full of the music of life and language, this is a novel that could not feel more of the moment.
As soon as I read the other-worldly first sentence of Jenni Fagan’s The Sunlight Pilgrims, with its poetic rhythm and sense of impending doom, I had a feeling this was going to be something special…I devoured the rest of the poet and author’s beautiful and strange second novel…With poignant reminder of not just the fragility of human emotions but of life itself, The Sunlight Pilgrims is a novel about connecting with others…[it] tackles current issues with a haunting, timeless beauty.
THE BIG ISSUE
Fagan is brilliant at creating empathy in the reader for her complex and uncompromising characters, so The Sunlight Pilgrims promises to be an emotional ride.
A writer of talent, heart and vision.
SCOTTISH REVIEW OF BOOKS
The Sunlight Pilgrims is steeped in mysticism …[it] brings to mind …TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land.
DIVINATION VIA THE MOVEMENTS OF BEES — ERIS YOUNG
The strangeness of the story, and the sheer lyricism of the prose, drew me in from the very first page: The Sunlight Pilgrims has turned out to be one of the most beautiful books I’ve read all year, in more ways than one.
A vivid and tender coming-of-age story set at the end of the world … [There] are subtle touches of magical realism, serving to enhance the portrayal of the characters … An immersive and accomplished novel … Reminiscent of Voltaire: “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” It is a love story on many levels: the mother-child love between Constance and Stella, the burgeoning romantic love between Constance and Dylan, the neighbourly love between everyone in the caravan park. The characters sing ever louder as the temperature drops lower … For all its coldness and darkness, The Sunlight Pilgrims is ultimately a hopeful book – and for a novel that describes the end of the world, that is quite a feat.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES
‘Fagan’s vivid, poetic-prose style injects the book with energy. She writes at the pace of thought, sentences like gunfire…She has a poets affection for precision and image.
It was with a degree of trepidation that I opened her [Fagan’s] new novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims, wondering if it would bear the weight of expectation. Thankfully, it does. It has the same combination of the weird and the all too real: the same concern for the marginal and the disposed. But it plays for higher stakes, and reaps greater rewards…I cannot wait to see what she does next.
MAIL ON SUNDAY
In haunting prose Fagan creates a credible apocalyptic landscape and articulates the survival instinct and our capacity for love.
Fagan received widespread acclaim for her 2012 debut The Panopticon, and was named as one of the prestigious Granta Best of Young British Novelists a year later. The Sunlight Pilgrims further cements Fagan’s reputation as a writer of skill and depth, a book that shares a similar outsider charm to its predecessor, and one that delves deep into how we relate to others on a human level in the face of all the crap that life throws at us … The author also, it should be said, writes like the poet that she is, with an original eye for description, a wonderful rhythm to her prose, and some genuinely inspiring and unusual characters. An impressive read.
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
Explores some big ideas … She addresses these themes with an infectious, otherworldly hilarity, assembling an eccentric cast of characters who triumphantly flout convention … The plot unfolds on a bleak and beautiful landscape … Eerily luminous, the natural world is punctuated by human marks made by Fagan’s extraordinary characters … The Sunlight Pilgrims speaks most clearly about family, and the many forms in which it can exist.
A beguiling, beautiful testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.
THE NEW STATESMAN
Reminiscent of the eponymous narrator of Morvern Callar, and Frank Cauldhame of The Wasp Factory. Indeed, it is somewhere between Alan Warner and Iain Banks that Fagan’s storytelling ability sits, the grit of her familial backstories and dysfunctional relationships dusted with the glitter of magical realism. Stella lives with her mother, Constance, who, in a perfect juxtaposition of the drab domestic with the ethereal, is first spotted by the urbane Dylan, a newcomer to the caravan park, reaching to polish the moon with a rag. Here, too, there are shades of Margaret Atwood’s depictions of altered realities.
Brilliant, bleak and Lynch (ianly) weird. I’m ready to call it a work of prophecy.