Penance by Eliza Clark - review by Ellie Eberlee

Ellie Eberlee

Beach Body

Penance

By

Faber & Faber 448pp £14.99
 

‘Did you know her? Did you see it on the internet?’ Alec Z Carelli, seedy true-crime journalist, wants to know. ‘Did you listen to a podcast? … Did they give you a content warning? Did you skip ahead? Did you see pictures? Did you look for them?’

Whatever the answers, sixteen-year-old Joan Wilson is dead. She was killed in a fire started by three of her classmates, who lured her away from a party in their English home town of Crow-on-Sea, tortured her in one of their fathers’ deserted chalets and then – realising the appalling magnitude of what they’d done – doused her body in petrol and set the structure ablaze. Originally overshadowed by Brexit coverage, the story is picked up years later by podcasters, true-crime enthusiasts and reporters like Carelli, who travels to Crow-on-Sea to produce an in-depth account of the murder.

Carelli’s findings constitute the bulk of Eliza Clark’s second novel, Penance. Alongside interviews the journalist conducts with the perpetrators, their families and classmates, the narrative consists of transcriptions of podcasts, newspaper stories, text messages and Tumblr posts. Carelli’s own voyeuristic reconstructions fill in the gaps.

Clark isn’t the first

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