The first page of Sarah Hopkins’ fourth novel contains a diagram of the brain – the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala and the rest all neatly labelled. So, yes, this is a novel about brains – specifically about brainwaves, what they can reveal and how they might be influenced – but it’s also about young offenders, outsourcing correctional services to private providers, the ethics of research, and how we shape the stories we tell ourselves.
Narrated by Daniel G, now 47, who was diagnosed with PTSD at the age of 10, The Subjects largely focuses on when he was 16 and convicted of trafficking prescription drugs to his classmates. With a history of ‘going berserko’, as his mother puts it, he is ordered by the judge to attend a ‘‘residential program to address the issues underlying your behaviour’’ in a remote part of the Australian countryside. There he joins 11 other adolescents who have all had some kind of run-in with the law.
There are echoes of Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things and Robert Lukins’ Everlasting Sunday in this throwing-together of perceived troublemakers in a remote location. However, unlike Wood’s and Lukins’ cohorts, Hopkins’ teenagers live in comfort, their needs given considerable attention.
This review appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 21 June 2019. You can read the full review here.