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Penance: From the author of BOY PARTS

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Slyly, it wonders if readers of Granta-endorsed literary fiction are so different from mere voyeurs. Carelli, a former journalist and failed author, writing a book about one of the most tragic and nauseating crimes committed in a small British town.

The “junk” podcasts she feasted on in her youth were a gateway in adulthood to the forensic heft of genre classics such as Brian Masters’s “She Must Have Known”: The Trial of Rosemary West. Clark credits that CV with showing her how precarious and rejection-laden writing can be; it meant she entered the industry under no illusions. The narrative is so gripping, and Clark's writing adapts to the registers that suit each part, that you feel fully engrossed in the story even as you question why it is being told like this.

Among the best passages are those set in an online community for people who idolise American school-shooters. Or, indeed, an author invoking Truman Capote to excuse his fabrications: “what I’ve done is really elevate a true story with beautiful prose”. I wanted to do something that was more ambitious, to prove that I could do something different and to avoid being pigeonholed. Others shared the view of Irina’s art teacher: “You’re not making art here; you’re making porn … The world doesn’t need more nasty, voyeuristic photography, does it?

People who’ve read it maybe think I’ll be more of a wind-up merchant when they meet me, but I’ve got more of a primary school teacher energy than an enfant terrible vibe,” Clark says. Penance can be difficult to follow and the effect is disconcerting, which, you come to feel, is exactly what Clark wants. I am a big fan of Eliza Clark’s previous novel, Boy Parts, and I think that I love Penance even more!I don’t think you could play at doing something for an extended period without crossing the line to just doing it at a certain point. True crime, done well, feels like one of the only times you get to read nonfiction about day-to-day lives. Cheers to Eliza Clark, a second novel is usually more difficult to connect with from author to audience but I feel this one was on par with her first - Boy Parts. And Carelli, who narrates this follow-up, is tricksy too: open about his moral failings, but skin-crawlingly relentless in his pursuit of the story, and as happy to exploit a pretty girl’s death as the next hack. Unfortunately, some good true crime podcasts I’ve listened to [are] so undermined by the presence of aggressive advertising.

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