Â Maybe if there’s nobody else that remembers them, then it’s like they didnae happen. They’re just gone then. If they fried out my memories it’d be like I never existed, ’cause there isnae a sister, or aunty, or da who’s gonnae say: Oh, remember when Anais broke her ankle? Remember when she cried on her birthday? Remember when she ate a whole cake and was sick at the back of the bus!
Anais doesn’t have any of that at 16. Born into the system, she’s been shuffled around 50 placements and has a pretty severe drug addiction. Now she’s being transferred to the Panopticon, a Scottish care facility designed so that all rooms are visible from the watchtower. Anais believes it’s part of a grand experiment, that someone is always watching her, waiting for her demise.
Told from her perspective, her words accented throughout, it’s difficult to tell whether or not the experiment is a manifestation of the drugs she’s taking or the paranoia she feels. She stands accused of putting a cop into a coma and arrives at the Panopticon with bloody clothes, though she can’t remember where the blood came from.
But the Panopticon harbors the kind of people Anais understands – a mother who has HIV and has passed it to her twins, a kid whose mom has cancer and who has no other family, a prostitute in love with another resident. Yet instead of exploring the scenarios she sets up, Fagan allows Anais Hendricks to delve in and out of memories, in and out of possible delusions to set up the injustice of the Scottish foster care system. Anais has only one person really looking out for her, Angus, a grad student taking up her case where her last social worker left off.
As Anais hurtles toward her court date, she watches as the Panopticon breaks down those inside, and she, too, makes a decision that breaks her in ways she seems to anticipate all along. However, some of the biggest questions the novel sets up never get answered, and it leaves The Panopticon a read that, much like its protagonist’s fear, seems to be an experiment.
The writing is harsh, graphic and sometimes difficult to get through in its attention to dialect, and though its raw exposure of foster care and the system is interesting, I never felt enough “story” to really relate to those within the walls of the Panopticon. That said, most reviews rave about this book, many calling it a best read of 2013.Â Just check out Goodreads.