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The Crack Magazine

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Penance by Eliza Clark

Eliza Clark made a real splash with her debut novel ‘Boy Parts’, a cellar-dark comedy that explored ideas around sexuality and gender roles. Her second book is another firecracker, this time set in the fictional town of Crow-on-Sea – a seaside resort on the east coast of England somewhere between Whitby and Scarborough. We learn that on the night of the Brexit vote, a teenage schoolgirl – Joan Wilson – staggered out of a seaside chalet. She was naked and had been set alight and died soon after. It becomes apparent that three other schoolgirls are responsible for her murder. They’ve confessed, but all tell slightly different versions of what actually happened on the night. ‘Penance’ is, in part, a “why-done-it” but it’s also so much more than that. It begins with a transcript of an obnoxious true-crime podcast, with the frat-boy-ish hosts finding much titillation in the “weird and horny” schoolgirls. Indeed, true-crime, as a genre in itself, is examined here with the entire narrative framed as being the work of Alec Z. Carelli – a journalist with designs on becoming a modern day Truman Capote. It’s an exhaustive account with everyone given a rounded history (even Crow-on-Sea gets an evocative backstory). There is witchcraft, a dilapidated fairground, a water-park with a tragic history, “Mad Bob”, a Jimmy Savile-a-like, school-shooter fanfic, and much more besides. It all adds up to a compelling tale, the author never having to resort to rug-pulling twists to keep readers fully engrossed. RM

Published by Faber