Like-minded misfits

The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan, William Heinemann, RRP£12.99, 336 pages

Fagan’s confident and deftly wrought debut centres on Anais Hendricks, a troubled 15-year-old. Born in a Scottish psychiatric hospital and failed by a series of foster parents, Anais turns to drugs and violent crime. Arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, she is sent to the “Panopticon”, a home for young offenders based in the grounds of a spooky old prison, where she finds love and friendship with a group of like-minded misfits.

The Panopticon is an example of what Martin Amis has called the “voice novel”, the success of which depends on the convincing portrayal of an idiosyncratic narrator. In this Fagan excels: though Anais displays a somewhat implausible precocity – she delivers pithy witticisms on Frida Kahlo and pre-Raphaelite fashion – 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: “They cannae have this soul.”

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