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Penance: A Novel por Eliza Clark
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Penance: A Novel (original 2023; edição 2023)

por Eliza Clark (Autor)

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1645167,799 (3.69)18
From the author of the cult hit Boy Parts comes a chilling, brilliantly told story of murder among a group of teenage girls-a powerful and disturbing novel as piercing in its portrait of young women as Emma Cline's The Girls. On a beach in a run-down seaside town on the Yorkshire coastline, sixteen-year-old Joan Wilson is set on fire by three other schoolgirls. Nearly a decade after the horrifying murder, journalist Alec Z. Carelli has written the definitive account of the crime, drawn from hours of interviews with witnesses and family members, painstaking historical research, and most notably, correspondence with the killers themselves. The result is a riveting snapshot of lives rocked by tragedy, and a town left in turmoil. But how much of the story is true? Compulsively readable, provocative, and disturbing, Penance is a cleverly nuanced, unflinching exploration of gender, class, and power that raises troubling questions about the media and our obsession with true crime while bringing to light the depraved side of human nature and our darkest proclivities.… (mais)
Membro:emmybee
Título:Penance: A Novel
Autores:Eliza Clark (Autor)
Informação:Harper (2023), 336 pages
Coleções:Lista de desejos
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Penance por Eliza Clark (2023)

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Mostrando 5 de 5
Penance by Eliza Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I saw a Goodreads review that described this book as “the final boss of unreliable narrators.”
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I wish I was witty enough to write that, it totally nails my experience of reading this! Not only that, but if you are someone who has ever had any fascination with True Crime it snatches that torch our your hand and shines it directly back into your own guilty face.

This review (along with footnotes) is also on my blog

The novel is presented as a non-fiction book written by Alec Z. Carelli, a disgraced ex-tabloid journalist (Polaris a thinly veiled pseudonym fo the disgusting rag that was The Sun). This book, by the author’s own introduction, is something of a last ditch attempt at regaining popularity. His aim is to write “the book” on the case – and like most true crime writers – he wants us to believe that is for noble and not purely self-serving reasons.

Summary
The case is the horrific murder of a teenage girl in a faded seaside town, at the hands of her three of her female schoolmates. She’d been tortured and locked in a burning beach hut, but she’d survived those injuries long enough to get away for help and name her killers. The motives for the killing are a salacious mix of bullying, jealous, lesbian relationships, the occult and the dark disturbing world of Tumblr. We already know what happened and who did it, so the book aims at the why of the story.

Drawn from real life crimes
Penance is purely fiction but it does feel real because Eliza Clark is clearly drawing from real life crimes. The main plot draws several elements from the slender man stabbing in the US (the girls in this book even make reference to it), and the American school shooters Dotty is obsessed with are sadly ten a penny these days. Not only that, but to add to the “hell mouth” atmosphere of the fictional town, Crown-on-Sea, there was even a local hero very clearly based on Jimmy Savile, and one of the girl’s father is a self-serving right wing politic figure who will stoke up anything for attention.

There is also the past accidental death of a child on a waterslide, the background of which which reminded me of stories about Action Park (again in the USA), the young boy who died on “the world’s tallest waterslide” in Kansas City and, more inappropriately, the episode of It’s Always Sunny where Mac gets his laminated entrance bracelet stuck in a gap in the waterslide.
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Characters
Alec Z. Carelli
I often slipped in remembering, while engrossed reading about Joni, Dotty, Violet, Angelica and Jade, that it is Alec Carelli who is the “final boss.” It is very easy to forget, because we are reading his words, that he is the real main character and the girls in turn become characters in his book. What we get to know of the girls has been filtered through hindsight following the horrific crime, by the various perspectives of friends and family, by town gossip, Carelli’s own personal experience, and – crucially – his dreams for fame and fortune.

This reminded me that when reading about true crime or watching a documentary, which at the most generous could be described as an attempt to understand how and why the bad thing happened, nobody can in reality ever know the truth. We can never really know the victims or the perpetrator, never understand the truth motives or what happened between them because we were not inside their heads, and we never can be. The story will always be told by somebody else and they will always have their own biases.

Even reading between his own lines you can see that Carelli is not a man with many scruples (he was caught up in the phone hacking scandal, yet another deal life crime, even if he claims he was not directly involved). He frequently brings up the suicide of his own young adult daughter not so many years prior. He wants us, and the grieving parents, to believe this is part of his motivation and that it gives him a unique insight in some way to investigate but he does it just often enough that it feels more like a deflection and a grab for sympathy. He is a grieving parent, and yet he does not seem to be above harassing other grieving parents for the sake of his own financial and reputational gain.

With that noted, Penance by Eliza Clark is still a novel and I found it a very readable one because of how fascinating I found the girls as they are on the page.

Teenage girls
The girls themselves are people I remember from my time as a teenage girl. The intricate politics of teen girl friendships, the casual – vicious – cruelties, and the way that whether you were “in” or “out” could turn on coin flip and seemed largely based on how “pretty” you were, was painful to recall! And yes there always the Angelica, that one annoying girl who always tries too hard, that everyone actually kind of hated.

Honestly everything about the descriptions of their school lives and the shifting dynamics that resulted in the unlikely group of Dotty, Violet and Angelica, took me back. I am so glad I don’t have to relieve secondary school!

Each of the three girls ends up a outsider, and they each find solace in different fandom communities on the social media site Tumblr. Angelica has her love of musical theatre, Violet in more general true crime, and Dotty a disturbing obsession with a pair of American school shooters.

Tumblr culture
I remember Tumblr, though I would have been much older than the girls. Apparently it was founded in 2007 which makes sense as I would have needed a laptop to access it and I wouldn’t have had that until I was at university. I wasn’t a heavy user but I dipped into the shallower end of the Mass Effect and Dragon Age fandom. I’d have been around 20-21 years old.

I definitely never ventured into the true crime hashtags, and thankfully my middle-teen true crime interest (which actually was mainly mafia based, after I read my Granddad’s copy of Donnie Brasco!) didn’t resurface until I was mid-twenties when podcasts came into my life. And even if I had I don’t think that sort of intense online community would ever have been for me. I have always found fan fiction cringe.
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Fan fiction written about real life people is just another level, a bridge too far for me to contemplate.

This tangent is all to say, while I was never a participant in this specific bit of internet culture I definitely recognise it. It feels so authentic that I can only assume that Eliza Clark must have been a “Tumblr girlie” at some stage.

True crime
The book opens with an excerpt of transcript from a popular fictional true crime podcast I Peed On Your Grave where obnoxious American men make offensive and unfunny jokes and sexist remarks about the girls involved in the crime. The podcast immediately reminded me of The Last Podcast on the Left (also named after a cult horror movie), which I once attempted to listen to and found the hosts so repulsive and misogynistic that I couldn’t get through an episode. I remain horrified that it gets recommended so often, especially by women.

I am guilty of listening to other “murder of the week” podcasts. My Favourite Murder was in my rotation for a few years, and I even went to see them live in Manchester (during a “I need to get out and do more” phase!). The two female hosts were irreverent, with a light touch on the research, but didn’t make any period or rape jokes (the vibe was more pop slogan feminism, “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered”). I also enjoyed Casefile which was more serious and well researched, and my preferred accent of Australian host.

And, of course I’ve also watched most of the True Crime documentaries out there, particularly any focused on serial killers.

While the podcasters can be accused of varying degrees of insensitivity to victims and their families, and of cashing in on the intense tragedy of others, they’re opportunists regurgitating information found in reporting and documentaries made by professional journalists. That’s definitely gross and exploitative but in a more obvious way, they’re the bottom feeders in the True Crime industry.

Reading Penance made me think more about the polished documentaries made by production companies. The ones with a whole team of professionals whose foremost aim is to create an entertaining piece of media. And they’re doing that by selecting material from real life ordinary people and raking over the worst thing that ever happened to them over and over again. Twisting it in whatever way is needed to tell the best story (I also just read Bright Young Things.. so more on that to come!).

Alec Z. Carelli wants to write a smash hit book, he told us that in his introduction, and we shouldn’t forget to examine his own motives when he attempts to uncover those of Dotty, Violet and Angelica.

Eliza Clark
Alec Z. Carelli is an anagram of Eliza Clark. In writing this book I think she’s questioning her own complicity in True Crime. As I noted earlier almost everything in this book has clear inspiration from real life headline making crimes, and would not exist with those things having happened to ordinary people. The families of people affected by any of those could read this book and feel their tragedy is just being further exploited.

I loved the final “pull the rug out” move at the end. It’s not often I finish a book with an audible “well, fuck me.” And it’s been on my mind ever since!

I finished it in just a few days of compulsive reading, and felt personally interrogated over my own consumption of True Crime. It also had me recalling the churn of being a teenage girl in a surprisingly visceral way. It was an uncomfortable and lingering read, that I could not put down. Highly recommended if you enjoy challenging unreliable narrators.

REVIEW SUMMARY
I LIKED
- Several levels of unreliable narrators to fight!
- Characters so specific and real it transported me back the churn of being a teenage girl in secondary school.
- Tumblr culture woven though the story was so authentic it’s easy to forgot it’s fiction.
- It challenged my own consumption of True Crime media (including this novel), and I’ve thought about it for weeks since.



View all my reviews ( )
1 vote ImagineAlice | Apr 13, 2024 |
Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC!

This was an interesting premise! It felt like it staggered in certain spots, just in terms of pacing and momentum, and certain chapters didn't feel necessary to the general premise of the story. All in all an interesting direction, could just use a little more oomph in the delivery. ( )
1 vote eboods | Feb 28, 2024 |
Penance explores the aftermath of a brutal murder of a teenage girl by three of her classmates in a small town in England. The story is told through the perspective of a journalist who has written a true crime book about the case, based on his interviews with the killers, the witnesses, and the victim’s family. The novel is a dark and disturbing examination of the motives and consequences of the crime, as well as the role of the media and the public in sensationalizing and exploiting it.

The novel is divided into six parts, each focusing on one of the main characters: the victim; the ringleader of the killers; the other two killees; an innocent gril caught up in the invesigation; ; and finally the journalist that wrote the account. Each part reveals a different aspect of the crime and its impact, as well as the secrets and lies that each character hides. The novel also switches between different formats, such as transcripts, blog posts, podcasts, and letters, to create a sense of realism and immersion.

The story is not a typical whodunit or a thriller, but rather a psychological and sociological study of the characters and their environment. The author does not shy away from depicting the violence and cruelty of the crime, but also shows the complexity and humanity of the perpetrators and the victim. The novel raises questions about the nature of evil, the influence of social media and fandom culture, the ethics of true crime journalism, and the power of narrative and manipulation. Penance is a gripping and unsettling novel that will keep you hooked until the end. ( )
3 vote stretch | Jan 7, 2024 |
This novel is written in the form of a true crime book, and so effectively does she inhabit this space that I read the first few pages and couldn't figure out why I had picked up true crime by a disgraced journalist unwittingly. Even after reassuring myself, I would find myself googling names, trying to find out what wikipedia had to say about the murder. It's an unsettling format and all the more because Clark does such a convincing job of it.

The story follows that of five girls; the dead girl, the three teenage girls who murdered her, and another girl who knew the girls involved. It is structured as a non-fiction account of a famous crime, with the addition that the author of this work of non-fiction is a disgraced journalist who is accused of having stolen personal writing belonging to some of the girls and used that to write novelistic chapters. The murder is brutal and that the killers were three teen-age girls meant that there would be media interest, although the early interest in this case was spearheaded by a few particularly lurid true crime podcasts.

Clark is covering a lot of ground with this novel, ranging from an examination of the appeal of true crime podcasts and media, the dark underbelly of which is the canonization of mass murderers as well as a sense that the public deserves entry into the lives of those involved in a crime; the fine line between non-fiction and fiction and how to maintain the divide (there is no situation in which I am willing to accept the term "true crime novel"); and, at the heart of all of this, a sensitive story about growing up in a dead-end seaside town on the east coast of England, and all the complexities involved in being a teenager.

Clark took on an ambitious project with this novel and that she pulled it off so convincingly is impressive. ( )
  RidgewayGirl | Nov 13, 2023 |
Alec Z. Carelli is looking for a good topic for his next true crime book. Even though he had some early success, his last books had failed so he knows that he needs to find a big story that hasn't been overexposed. He finds his story in a small town where a decade earlier three sixteen year old girls, burnt one of their school mates to death. Alec is thrilled to find his story and knows that if he writes it well, he will gain fame as a writer plus make some much needed cash. So he moves to the small town and works to interview the families of the accused girls as well as the family of the murdered girl. He gives us some interesting information about the history of the girls and their families but goes into way too much information about the history of the town and numerous minor characters who really have nothing to do with the story. The book does get bogged down in some of these long explanations of things that don't matter. He also spends a lot of time quoting podcasts on the crime that seemed unneeded.

I found it interesting the way the author wrote a book about an author writing a book. True crime stories are very popular right now and it was the perfect genre for the book within the book. However, early on we begin to wonder how much of the story really is TRUE crime and how much of it is made up by Carelli to make his story more intriguing and ultimately more popular with the public. Personally, I thought the book was too long but I think the author needed to include all of the unneeded details provided by the true crime author to show that he really didn't dig deep into his story but only relied on surface details. This was an interesting story that highlighted the current interest in True Crime stories even without knowing what is true and what is made up. ( )
1 vote susan0316 | Sep 2, 2023 |
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From the author of the cult hit Boy Parts comes a chilling, brilliantly told story of murder among a group of teenage girls-a powerful and disturbing novel as piercing in its portrait of young women as Emma Cline's The Girls. On a beach in a run-down seaside town on the Yorkshire coastline, sixteen-year-old Joan Wilson is set on fire by three other schoolgirls. Nearly a decade after the horrifying murder, journalist Alec Z. Carelli has written the definitive account of the crime, drawn from hours of interviews with witnesses and family members, painstaking historical research, and most notably, correspondence with the killers themselves. The result is a riveting snapshot of lives rocked by tragedy, and a town left in turmoil. But how much of the story is true? Compulsively readable, provocative, and disturbing, Penance is a cleverly nuanced, unflinching exploration of gender, class, and power that raises troubling questions about the media and our obsession with true crime while bringing to light the depraved side of human nature and our darkest proclivities.

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