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Boy Parts

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verifyErrors }}{{ message }}{{ /verifyErrors }}{{ So much for Penance’s narrator; but what of its reader, engrossed by his uncannily realistic account of human misery? Penance answers Boy Parts’s question – art or porn? – by suggesting that the distinction isn’t always so clear. Slyly, it wonders if readers of Granta-endorsed literary fiction are so different from mere voyeurs. And would they ever pay attention to a town such as Crow-on-Sea unless drawn by morbid curiosity? Carelli has settled in Crow, we learn, to investigate the torture and murder of 16-year-old Joan Wilson at the hands of three girls – Dolly, Violet and Angelica – from her school. 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. Initially the crime drew little media interest, most likely because it took place on the night of the 2016 Brexit referendum. But three years later the “true-crime industrial complex” is turning its attention to Crow, spying a new opportunity to exploit human suffering for entertainment that’s “tailored to our basest instincts”. By contrast, Carelli hopes to “do something worthy”, intending to honour Crow and its still-grieving community by writing about the town as much as the crime itself.

When Eliza Clark’s debut novel came out with an indie publisher in 2020, nobody imagined that her second would be among the most eagerly awaited of 2023. Her rise from obscurity to literary celebrity began when fans on TikTok made Boy Parts a cult hit. It was complete when, a few months ago, Granta magazine named the 29-year-old author one of the UK’s best 20 novelists under the age of 40. Any lingering suspicions that Clark is a mere provocateur will be banished by Penance, which – though it won’t appeal to all tastes – is a work of show-stopping formal mastery and penetrating intelligence. 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”). Whereas most contemporary novels feel like variations on a few fashionable themes, Newcastle-born Clark seems oblivious to the latest metropolitan literary preoccupations. How many writers, for instance, would set their much-heralded new work in the unglamorous leave-voting northern town of “Crow-on-Sea”? It’s here that, a bogus foreword informs us, the action of the book we’re about to read – Penance by true-crime journalist Alec Carelli – takes place.

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Boy Parts author Eliza Clark: ‘Everything’s become bland – people just don’t want the slop anymore’

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