The Panopticon finds its North American home at Hogarth and Crown

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” -Virginia Woolf.

 

In 1917, Virginia and Leonard Woolf started The Hogarth Press from their home, armed only with a handpress and a determination to publish the newest, most exciting writing. Hogarth brought the world authors who shaped the culture of the past 100 years: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, Christopher Isherwood, Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein, Vita Sackville-West, to name a few.

This year, what began in London in 1917 finds a new life in New York and Hogarth’s goals are no less lofty: bring readers the authors who will shape the culture of the next 100 years: Anouk Markovits, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, Stephanie Reents, Jay Caspian-Kang, Vincent Lam, Shani Boianjiu, Lawrence Osborne, Ben Masters, and Jenni Fagan.

A rose, is a rose, is a rose. I adore Gertrude Stein, and vintage print presses that pushed the boundaries of what was possible for their authors. I am pathologically drawn to all beautiful books, old and new. Over the last week or so I have had some great conversations with Alexis Washam, Senior Editor at H&C, in New York, and I am hugely impressed by what this new imprint are bringing to the publishing world. I am exceptionally happy to announce that The Panopticon is being published by Hogarth and Crown in the US, Canada, Greenland and all of North America. I am one of those writers with a true travelling hobo soul — so to find this kind of home for The Panopticon — to see it continue its journey out into the world, is totally amazing! I will be looking forward to updating on this one, as and when news comes in. In the meantime I am about to read a bunch of books already being published by Hogarth, can’t wait, I hope they send the canvas bag too. I love to geek out on these things, I played in bands for a long time and it reminds me of great labels like 4AD, or Sub Pop, early Geffen, or Apple. It makes me dance anyway! 

Hogarth is publishing a list of all fiction, all the time: contemporary, voice-driven, character-rich, eclectic, adventurous, provocative, vividly written. “We are honored to create an American life for a great publishing name, and we look forward to building a list of worldly, provocative, and well-written works for a broad and lasting readership,” says Molly Stern, Publisher of Hogarth and Senior Vice President, Publisher, Crown Publishers.

The Panopticon Book Launch

Dear peoples of the revolution,

I will be having the book launch for The Panopticon, tomorrow evening (May 16th) at Word Power Bookshop in Edinburgh, West Nicholson St, 7pm. Free wine, all welcome. I will be reading from the novel, answering question and signing books. For those in the know I do a great line in top hatted snails if you’d like an etching alongside a signed copy. I have friends over from Amsterdam, up from London, bods from all over are planning to swing by and get their groove on. The event will be filmed and photographed so I will post up some footage next week. Hope to see you there xx

 

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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.’ Eleanor Catton, author of The Rehearsal

5 Minute Memoir By Jenni Fagan, The Independent

The bus smells damp, it’s snowing outside and I am going to be late for tutorials if this traffic doesn’t start moving. Trafalgar Square appears and Nelson is scanning the horizon. I used to do that in crowds, unconsciously hoping to find a similar feature to mine. I’ve never met anyone I am related to, well, my father a few times in my twenties, but other than that – nothing.

Now I have two heartbeats inside me, where before there was just one. There is still a faint residue of gel on my tummy, where the nurse coated it earlier. On the screen – your hands covered your ears, you were dreaming, floating in space, unaware of us peering in at you. Your heartbeat sounded so strong, the sound filled the room and the nurse turned to me and said – it’s a boy.

I cried.

You are no longer an abstract it, you are my son. We walked to Tate Modern and I played you Tim Buckley on my headphones. In the Turbine Hall there was a huge cargo container lined with black velvet. Stepping inside – it grew darker, until everything was black. That’s how I imagine dying might be – like walking into darkness. I’ll tell you about death another day. It’s nothing to fear. Hopefully I will pass on a long time before you do and I promise if there is a cargo container on the other side of life, I will be there, waiting for you when you arrive. You will be old and wizened then, a little old man – who once was a boy.

We took a few porcelain sunflower seeds from another exhibit, each one was handmade and is totally unique. I keep touching them in my pocket and wondering what I can tell you about life?

The truth of it is this – we live in a world without explanation, in a galaxy and universe surrounded by galaxies and universes and nobody asks questions too loudly because the answers are sketchy at best. I can’t explain to you why we arrive as seeds and leave as dust, but I can show you the truth in rainbows. I can bake you pancakes, and take you to the park in autumn so we can kick up the leaves.

The bus turns onto Shaftesbury Avenue, the pavements are crowded and I wonder if we’ll raise you here. I want you to spend your childhood by the sea, somewhere with huge skies and open spaces.

I know you already, we are intrinsically linked in a way that I have never felt with a stranger. I was always walking into some new foster home to live in, or a kids’ home, or an adoption – the perpetual new kid. Over the years I began to observe families, how they functioned. I studied them because they never worked out for me.

This is different, we are a part of each other, and I will do everything I possibly can to give you a happy, secure life. I feel like I’m growing up, placing my two flighty feet, firmly on the ground. The bus turns onto Oxford Street, and I ring the bell to get off and realise I won’t be late for class after all.

Here we are. Two heartbeats. You and me. I pull my hat down, tie my scarf and hold the handrail as we go down the steps. I’m wearing wellies, and jeans, and my jacket is zipped up to my chin. I’d never wear wellies before but you make me want to keep my feet dry.

We step onto the pavement and an old man swerves by us, singing loudly in Italian. His coat is covered in shiny badges. He gestures at passers-by as if he is ushering them off a plane, and they try to avoid him.

This is life – in all its smelly glory! I hope you can forgive me for bringing you into it, especially if you think too much like I do. It’s OK really, the ache of being alive, the beat of your own heart, the silence of unanswerable questions. There are shooting stars, and music, and there is magic if you learn how to look – and it is still our world, no matter how many other people might try to convince you, it’s mostly theirs.

It is yours and it is mine.

And all these other people walking by us in the snow, it’s their world too.

I touch my tummy through my coat and I know you are awake again. The sunflower seeds in my pocket feel cool, and smooth to touch. We will wait for a few years, then we will go and plant them – somewhere on a cliff-top, where there is a view of the sea. We’ll let them nestle in the cool soil and water them on weekends. After all, who says – that porcelain seeds can’t grow?

Jenni Fagan’s novel, ‘The Panopticon’, has just been published in hardback by William Heinemann. It has been picked as one of Waterstone’s 11 debut novels of the year

The Scotsman Reviews The Panopticon

Book review: The Panopticon

Published on Saturday 12 May 2012 00:00

 

Stuart Kelly hails a novel that gets inside the soul of its troubled heroine

 

Jeremy Bentham might well be surprised if he learned how influential his ideal prison – the Panopticon – would be in terms of aesthetics. The circular prison, where the prisoners can be seen all the time (or rather, where they know that they might be seen at any time, and therefore internalise the surveillance to the extent that the prison controllers don’t need an actual person continually watching) plays a significant role in Angela Carter’s Nights At The Circus, and is central to both Charles Stross’s Glasshouse and Hannu Rajamieni’s The Quantum Thief. It was discussed at length in Michel Foucault’s Discipline And Punish, his ground-breaking work on the transition from public, retributory execution to private, supposedly rehabilitating incarceration, where, as Foucault elegantly and paradoxically puts it, the soul becomes a prison for the body.

It is the title of Jenni Fagan’s novel, already selected as one of the “Waterstones 11” promotion of the best debut works of the year. 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. To give some indication of the maturity of this novel, I should confess that initially I had one or two queries about certain decisions about style and plotting; which, on reflection, I increasingly saw as strengths – and very meaningful strengths – rather than weaknesses.

The Panopticon is narrated by a girl who calls herself Anais Hendricks. Abandoned at birth, she has been through 51 residential and fostering placements, and a brief period of adoption ended in tragedy. Aged 15, already boasting 147 charges of theft, possession, vandalism and breaches of the peace, she has been sent to the Panopticon after a WPC with whom she was pursuing a vendetta was battered into a coma. There was blood on Anais’s school uniform but she cannot remember the crime.

Anais’s voice is an intricate blend of the demotic and the hauntingly lyrical. This is the sound of children who have read Trainspotting: radge and chore and womble and umnay. Fagan makes Anais a baroque curser, who could out-swear Sick Boy, and the real sense comes across that such inventive profanity is the only power available to the powerless. It is not the paucity of vocabulary but an anguished frustration at wanting swearing to hurt again. This is offset by psychologically acute moments of transport. Anais plays her “birthday game”, inventing a glamorous childhood she never had. She develops her own arcane mythology of “the experiment”. Not having a mother means she was never really born at all, but cultured in a petri-dish. Men with broad-brimmed hats and no noses are using her to discover just how much a nobody can take before they break. There are moments which are genuinely distressing to read, which return the reader to a painful sense of how mindlessly and unspeakable cruel people can be. But it is marbled with cynical, smart comedy: Anais, for example, when she is told to participate in group events as a way of coping with her trauma, thinks “Okay then. I’ll bowl myself better. I’ll ice-skate tae f***ing happiness every Friday f***ing night”.

Fagan is exceptionally skilful with bathos, a notoriously difficult literary register; here, however, it manages to be funny and heart-breakingly tender at the same time. When Anais tries to recollects scraps she has heard about her birth mother, she thinks “if they fried my mother’s voices out, did she still know who she was afterwards? They found her naked outside a supermarket supposedly. In labour. Psychotic. They never did say which supermarket”. This both defuses and humanises, and frequently it grounds Anais’s fantasies in the all too human. Likewise there is an astonishing cadenza of all the questions which social workers don’t ask. “They dinnae ask about the terrible baldness of the moon, they dinnae ask about rooms without windows or doors … they didnae ask me about blood in an empty bath, and they didnae ask about what Theresa was gonnae do when she got out that bath – she was gonnae curl up with me and watch a movie. We were gonnae make microwave popcorn.” Bathos renders that innocuous, almost inconsequential, detail into a vivid means to express phenomenal loss.

I had some reservations that certain plot lines drop from prominence as the narrative hurtles towards its catastrophe. It seems, however, as if there is a deliberate strategy to avoid certain forms of narrative closure. It is in keeping with what the authorities might describe as Anais’s “chaotic” circumstances. People disappear. Things are permanently unresolved, or unresolvable. In contrast with the crime novel, where despite its claims to verisimilitude, there is always resolution, Fagan’s novel is both more naturalistic and pleasingly oblique. Life, as Stevenson said, is “infinite, illogical, abrupt and poignant”. To render this novelistically is a rare achievement. There were moments when I felt a didacticism crept into the dialogue; and felt suitably chastened when I realised that critics never really complain when the middle-class characters in an Iris Murdoch novel pontificate about philosophy. Characters have a right to opinions even if they don’t have mortgages.

The Panopticon appeals to writers since in some ways the novelist is the prison’s arch-overseer, able to look into the minds of the characters. But that comes with a duty: to keep your eyes open even when you’d rather shut them. Fagan is gloriously open-eyed about immaturity, maturity, sexuality, crime, dispossession and more. Her ability to capture the cross-currents of language, the impersonations of consciousness, is admirable: “I am not that important”, Anais thinks, “and that is just fine by me. I propose a stiff upper lip and onward Christain soldiers, quick-bloody-march. This is Anais Hendricks, telling the nation: to be me is really quite spiff-f***ing-spoff, lashings of love, your devoted BBC broadcaster since 1938”. (I also adore the tmesis, that self-interruption of words).

As a debut, The Panopticon does everything it should. It announces a major new star in the firmament.

 

The Panopticon

By Jenni Fagan

William Heinemann, 324pp, £12.99

 
 

For Books Sake

Sometimes people get something, they get it and they give something back. That means something to a writer. We spend endless hours spend putting one word in front of another, it’s a way of life, a way of being, and sometimes — it’s good to be got. For Books Sake made my day with this review, so thank you … Also to everyone else who has been putting their support behind this novel, this last week or two has been amazing. Word on the street is the literati are swapping it, the cool kids are quoting it, and there’s a drag queen in Akron who does a mean Anais. Their is a rumour that there will be a lit tug of war held at Trafalgar Square, the Panopticonites vs the living dead, my bet is they’ll win easy — gin in one hand, vintage shot-gun in the other.

I will be having the book launch at Word Power Book Shop on West Nicholson St. Edinburgh, 16th May 7pm. All are welcome.

Here is the review from For Books Sake — a great online source, picky, discerning and wholly passionate about literature.

24TH APR
THE PANOPTICON BY JENNI FAGAN

The Panopticon is the début novel by Scottish poet and writer Jenni Fagan, and my favourite novel so far this year.

It’s the first-person story of 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.

Aged fifteen, Anais finds herself in a police car, on her way to the Panopticon, a detention centre for chronic young offenders. Across town, there’s a policewoman in a coma and Anais has been found with blood on her school uniform. And although she’s committed all sorts of other crimes, when it comes to this one, she’s adamant that she’s innocent.

Fucked or fucked over by almost every adult she’s ever met, Anais’ life so far has been a never-ending cycle of care and foster homes. But for the most part, she’s blase and upbeat about the violence and despair she’s witnessed; Anais is a survivor, and she’s smart and funny with it.

Sharp, intuitive and self-assured, she’s upfront about her sporadic escapes into drugs and sex, and honest about her fears of the mysterious and sinister Experiment that track her every move.

Although tentative at first, she soon forms a makeshift family with her fellow inmates at the Panopticon, but the authorities are watching and waiting. And if Anais makes one wrong move, she’s had it.

Her predicament and personality alone are enough to keep you turning the pages, but as you might expect from the subject matter, there’s a dark heart to The Panopticon.

Parts of it are uncomfortable and potentially triggering, with prostitution, rape, self-harm, animal and child abuse all playing their part. But Anais has seen it all before, facing extreme situations with bravado and defiance. And those are at her moments when she’s at her most heartbreaking.

Crude, honest and often hilarious, she is impulsive and unpredictable but always believable, coming out with all sorts of caustic put-downs, wry observations and classic claims:

“[The word] vagina sounds like a venereal disease. Or like the name for some snobby rich German countess’ daughter; her entry into society would be announced in some glossy magazine, and underneath it would read…Vagina Schneider at the débutante ball, wearing an electric blue Vera Wang – a true glory to behold.”

Anais subverts stereotypes and the judgements of those around her. Acknowledging that the authorities expect a uniform of ponytail, gold jewellery, tracksuit and fake tan, Anais is nostalgic for the romance and glamour of bygone eras, inadvertently showing her softer, more sensitive side with her secret fantasies of painting in Paris:

“I adore dragonflies. I adore the sea, the moon, the stars, vintage Dior and old movies in black and white. I adore girls with tits and hips and class and old men in suits who have that dignified look about them.”

Although the system may be broken, Anais is sticking to her story, and The Panopticon is as memorable and exhilarating as its narrator. Published next week by William Heinemann, you can pre-order the hardback for £8.44, or pre-order the Kindle edition for £8.04.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended for: Anyone who loves an underdog, or who has ever had cause to rage against the machine; rebels, delinquents and daredevils of all ages will love Anais’ strength, boldness and bravery.

Other recommended reading: For more rebel girls in over their heads, read Colleen Curran‘s Whores on the Hill, Bella Bathurst‘s Special, or Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth when it comes out later this summer. Or for another stubborn, defiant and memorable narrator, try Nell Leyshon‘s The Colour of Milk.

Jane Bradley

Now, here’s Kurt to play you out.