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August 7, 2013

Book Notes - Jenni Fagan "The Panopticon"

The Panopticon

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jenni Fagan's The Panopticon is one of the year's finest debut novels, and its protagonist Anais Hendricks one of fiction's most compelling child narrators.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In her own words, here is Jenni Fagan's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The Panopticon:


Daniel Johnston - "True Love Will Find You In the End"

I love the childlike quality to Daniel’s work, and this song is really beautiful.I imagine it playing in the scene where Tash and Isla have an impromptu wedding to each other on a tiny island on a loch. The scene was unexpected, beautiful, sweet. Their ring is made from daisy flowers and the confetti is petals picked right there and then. Shortie makes up the vows for them as she goes along and the witnesses are some nearby swans and Anais.


Neil Young - "Hurricane"

I often felt like this book was a force of nature while I was writing it. It had an energy to it that Anais accelerates and creates just by her presence. Hurricane is one of my favourite songs of all time. The theme of wanting to reach out emotionally but being too blown away by the force of nature - "it really is how Anais feels and captures her indomitable sense of survival.


The Kills - "Black Balloon"

I used to go cycling in the parks in London, or down by the Thames when I was writing The Panopticon. I would listen to this song on my iPod. It reminds me of being exhausted from typing for eight hours or more and then just getting outside into the city and seeing people in the parks and feeling like my life was changing. I had done so many awful jobs in my twenties and I now had this window to write because I was studying. I decided to make the most of it.


Tim Buckley - "Song To The Siren"

This song has such an otherworldly quality, it’s like a poem, or a myth and you can
really see the imagery in Tim’s lyrics. The characters in this novel are adrift in about the most extreme way they can be but they still have the courage to smile, to reach out, to care about each other with the amazing conviction that teenagers have. Their ability to seize life is something that is often overlooked or underestimated. Anais is searching and this song is about searching, about being open to the elements, and still having it in your heart to know one day your arms will be open, that you can nurture. Anais shows this in the way she cares for her friends and responds to a little girl called Alice whom she meets toward the end of the book.


The Pixies - "Where Is My Mind"

I’ve been influenced by lots of musicians and artists and Frank Black is right up there with the best of them. His turn of phrase as a lyricist is great. The whole band are. I often wonder where my mind is. I saw The Pixies in Glasgow a few years ago and I cried because you could just see the lives they have lived and who they are as a band now, it’s almost better than if I had been able to see them twenty years ago. I saw Frank Black backstage playing chess afterwards and I could not think of one cool to say to him so I just walked by.


PJ Harvey - "Beautiful Feeling"

This song reminds me of cities and travelling. Landscapes moving past so fast you can only capture the most obscure details or shapes and colours. Anais lives her life at such a breakneck speed and she observes the world all the time. She is aware of what her circumstances may mean for her future and that way she holds back from it - "tries to get some distance, it makes her laid back despite everything. She also has this way to reach out and find beauty even in the worst situations. Her soul is tangible and she is able to feel life in all its fragility - "as a beautiful thing.


Nick Cave - "Into My Arms"

This song was written when Nick was listening to the vicar in a small church in Surrey and it has the feeling of a hymn. Anais does not believe in an interventionist god either. She knows that this life can end abruptly and without reason. Despite how deeply she has been hurt by her losses, she wants love. She knows it may take decades before she is able to actually accept it but she wants to be in those arms, in that place of feeling safe. This is what makes her someone with the potential to heal. I find readers often want to reach out to her as a character and she stays with them. I would listen to Nick Cave late at night when I lived in Peckham, writing this book with no idea if it ever would be published.


The Ting Tings - "We Walk"

I saw The Ting Tings at Brixton Academy in London when I was writing The Panopticon. This song doesn’t relate to the book much more than that and the way it has a sense of wanting to escape and being at a place in your life where you say you’ve had enough, there is no going back, it is time to move on. I also really like the line - "put us in the corner because we are into ideas." Anais is really concerned with existential themes, she wants to know why the world and universe exists the way it does, why people accept social structures and I started this novel with one question, is it possible to achieve autonomy? That is what she is trying to find out. She has been written off by the circumstances of her life and a society that places absolutely no value on her whatsoever. To reclaim herself from that system will take an ability to walk away from those structures and make up her own mind about who she really is.


Gary Jules - "Mad World"

I had so many things going on while I wrote this book. The riots happened in London. I moved house three times, country once. I had my son. My best friend died. My cat (who I had for twenty years) died. I did both my degrees and got really immersed in theory and philosophy. All those things fed into the novel although you wouldn’t notice them as they were more a grounding influence than something obvious. Life is often overwhelming, the world we live in is mad. It is too much for most adults if we sit down and think about it - ", so what chance do teenagers have? Also the lyrics talk about feeling really unwelcome at school. Anais is overlooked by her schooling system but she is a bright, talented young women with so much to offer.


X-Ray Spex - "Identity"

The title says it all. I saw X Ray Specs play in Camden Roundhouse the summer I wrote this book, I loved their first album since I first discovered it when I was sixteen. I used to play in punk bands and later grunge type outfits and I loved discovering all the women in punk and no-wave as they all had something to say, they were the antithesis to lots of bland pop music that was on mix-tapes for kids in the eighties.


Tori Amos feat Leonard Cohen - "Silent All These Years"

These two musicians are great and this song is given a different edge through their collaboration. So many children spent their lifetimes voiceless, experiencing a kind of silence that is soul deep. It alienates them from the world in a way that is tough to live with! It reminds me of a child going through child abuse and living in a world of adults that does not care properly for them, it doesn’t even see what they are going through. By the time most kids get put in children’s homes they know what it is like to be silent. They often start out with a kind of nothing that is hard to come back from.


Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

This is a timeless song and it captures the anger and angst that is meant to belong to the teenage years, personally, I’ve found it has never entirely left me. That dynamic of being observed is there as well, that idea that the band is there to entertain while they feel stupid, while they are dealing with their own inability to function. It’s a classic song and I would listen to Nirvana on these long walks through different boroughs and think about psychogeography. I like to glimpse things that later become poems or scenes in books.


Joy Division - "She’s Lost Control"

There are times in the book where Anais really does lose control. She is being pushed further than she is able to handle and she doesn’t always express that in a way that helps her. She has a destructive streak a mile wide and this is triggered when she has lost someone or been through something traumatic. People who have been through extreme trauma tend to repeat it in their head and replay things that have happened. This song has such a repetitive feel to it and it reminds me of Anais because of that.


Guided By Voices - "Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory"

This song reminds me of death, the cold hands and "old friends you might not remember fading away from you." Anais feels the loss of those she has loved although she doesn’t know how to deal with it, she feels that nobody does care and she tries to walk with her head high and a bit of style and it somehow shows up her vulnerability, her childlike nature, even her innocence in a really profound way.


Patti Smith - "Horses"

This song starts out as a poem, and it creates a great dynamic and energy. It has a sheer energy and beauty and it is fun, so is Anais Hendricks. She wants to be alive, not just walking around too scared to feel. She believes in flying cats, the moon, hurt, hate, masturbation, music, walking up the watchtower and having the courage to smash a window that was meant to keep her out - "keep her controlled - "oppressed. She is a counter culture outlaw in the making. A revolutionary just by the fact that she refuses to accept being boxed into a life she can’t escape from. I could pick any number of Patti Smith songs but there is a line in this - "there is a little place called space - "and it reminds me of Anais. Her awareness that we live on a planet without adequate explanations to its origins (for her) means she can see life for what it is, something short and she thinks it is worth giving it everything she has, while she is here.


Jenni Fagan and The Panopticon links:

excerpt from the book

Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Everyday eBook review
Guardian review
National Post review
New York Times review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Scotsman review
Washington Post review

Arizona Republic interview with the author
Granta interview with the author
Scotsman profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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