One of Granta's Best Young British Novelists 2023
From the author of the cult hit Boy Parts comes a chilling, brilliantly told story of murder among a group of teenage girls—a powerful and disturbing novel as piercing in its portrait of young women as Emma Cline’s The Girls.
On a beach in a run-down seaside town on the Yorkshire coastline, sixteen-year-old Joan Wilson is set on fire by three other schoolgirls.
Nearly a decade after the horrifying murder, journalist Alec Z. Carelli has written the definitive account of the crime, drawn from hours of interviews with witnesses and family members, painstaking historical research, and most notably, correspondence with the killers themselves. The result is a riveting snapshot of lives rocked by tragedy, and a town left in turmoil.
But how much of the story is true?
Compulsively readable, provocative, and disturbing, Penance is a cleverly nuanced, unflinching exploration of gender, class, and power that raises troubling questions about the media and our obsession with true crime while bringing to light the depraved side of human nature and our darkest proclivities.
A native of Newcastle, Eliza Clark lives in London, where she previously attended Chelsea College of Art. She works in social media marketing and has worked for women’s creative writing magazine Mslexia. In 2018, she received a grant from New Writing North’s “Young Writers’ Talent Fund.” Her short horror fiction has been included in Tales to Terrify, and she hosts the cultural podcast You Just Don’t Get It, Do You? with her partner. Boy Parts is her first novel.
"Her writing embraces the socially unacceptable, and wryly explores themes of gender, power and violence." — Granta Best of Young British Novelists 2023
"Eliza Clark is a genius with voice and a master of flipped expectations. Penance astonished me with its breadth, wit and confidence. A wickedly clever deep dive into the nastier corners of the national psyche—you've never read anything like this." — Julia Armfield, author of Our Wives Under the Sea
"A work of show-stopping formal mastery and penetrating intelligence." — The Guardian
"Deeply disturbing and hilarious." — Imogen Crimp, author of A Very Nice Girl
"[N]ever reads like a conventional novel . . . Penance is written with such intelligence and dark humour . . . what Clark does best, though, is capture what it’s like being a teenager today." — The Telegraph
"Chilling, clever and unputdownable." — The Guardian (UK)
"Intricate . . . the skin-prickling result is a pitch-dark mosaic of murky families and deadly frenemies, chronicling the slow decline of an ill-omened holiday resort with supernatural chills and metafictional twists." — The Observer (UK)
"Penance is in one of literature’s most crucial categories, ‘undeniable banger.'" — Megan Nolan, author of Acts of Desperation
“Penance is a darkly compelling study of violence, madness and manipulation. It is grimly topical in light of the frequent mass killings in America and the steady scourge of knife crime among youngsters in Britain. Ms Clark, who this year was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, impresses with her effective conceit and her slippery narrator. The patchwork narrative is skillfully woven together . . . . she captivates with her sharp depictions of three young women who create their own 'tiny hell.'” — The Economist
“Eliza Clark’s propulsive novel dives into the depraved obsession with true crime, class, and power in a distressing look at young women and the darkness of the human spirit.” — Nylon Magazine
"Clark weaves a gripping tale that leads readers through podcast transcripts, text messages, interviews and Tumblr posts to show how stories become truth and explore the fraught space of teenage friendships and fandom as they collide with true crime." — Dazed
"Clark’s prose is brisk and clever, and the horror of the events described implicitly but deliberately raises a difficult question: to what extent are we as readers merely fresh initiates in a club of corpse-ogling fanatics?" — Literary Review
"Gripping . . . . A seaside Happy Valley." — Sheena Patel, author of I'm A Fan
"An ambitious deconstruction of society’s voyeuristic obsession with the true crime genre, written as a pseudo piece of investigative nonfiction, Penance is . . . a lot. But it’s a big, big swing." — Paste Magazine
"Think Ruth Rendell’s psychological intensity meets Murderpedia.org. Clark’s skilled foreshadowing, characterization, and atmospheric conjuring make her one to watch." — Booklist
"Clark's second book is another firecracker . . . . Compelling." — Crack Magazine
"As bleak as it is compelling, Penance is a perfect dark satire of the voyeuristic true crime industry and the media's complicity in sensationalising the pointless destruction of human lives into a vulgar, grubby money-making circus." — Charlotte Vassell, author of The Other Half
“I'd always assumed that true crime was primarily an American pastime, but Penance, the sophomore novel from Britain's Eliza Clark, demonstrates that our obsession has crossed the pond. . . Penance is packaged as a true crime potboiler, written by disgraced tabloid journalist Alec Carelli. . . . .which Clark does convincingly . . . .Her talent is still abundant here . . . particularly in Clark's trenchant observations . . .and in the novel's imaginative coda.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune