Penance: From the author of BOY PARTS
About this deal
There’s none of the lazy writing that occasionally blemished Boy Parts (where one character is “pretty as a picture and thin as a rake” and, a few lines later, “flat as a board”). Some parts were uncomfortable to read, but that’s to be expected given the subject matter and I don’t think it was ever gratuitous.
Eliza Clark’s writing embraces the socially unacceptable and wryly explores themes of gender, power, and violence.Writing fanfiction would not really be that odd if my character was doing it about Harry Potter or something, but it is when they’re doing it about school shooters. Penance ’s dark humour occupies a similar space, however, as do its keen observations on the edgier niches of internet culture in the mid-2010s, explored in passages that ricochet between the crime itself, the witch-hunting history of Crow, and the precarious landscapes of pre-censorship Tumblr and true crime message boards. Exploring the fathoms of internet and its suffocating depths as a naive and impressionable youth can bring out insidious traits in personality, can we blame social media for these kinds of issues?
Now the Clark pipeline is running hot: as well as several screen projects she can’t discuss, she’s writing another novel (“a kind of speculative fiction thing”); in the autumn, there’s a stage adaptation of Boy Parts (which has also been optioned); and next year there will be a story collection “bouncing around” sci-fi and horror (one of the stories, She’s Always Hungry, is in the current issue of Granta; if you’ve read it and were left puzzled, Clark says 2,000 words were lopped off the end “in a way that may not be clear”, her admirably level phrase).Among the best passages are those set in an online community for people who idolise American school-shooters.
But things take a sinister turn when some of them become immersed in online “fandoms” where murderers are idolised like pop stars. Penance is a clever, intricate and metatextual novel, styled as a true crime book by Alec Z Carelli, a former tabloid journalist who was implicated in the phone-hacking scandal. Not every reader will make it through the opening scene, which describes Joan’s horrific death after the other girls douse her in petrol and set her on fire.TW: One of the girls in Penance is obsessed with creating ‘pockets of hell’ – places to manifest and spread evil energy – which feels like a darkly comic parallel to post-Brexit Britain. I really like Jon Ronson’s writing, I’ve read all his books multiple times, and part of it is I think they are just really interesting character studies of Jon Ronson.