The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

the-execution-of-noa-220713-de-mdnPublished: 2013
Author: Elizabeth L. Silver

A sideways look at the death penalty


I love living in Britain, for all of its faults I genuinely believe that it is a good country. Things do go wrong, but generally we have a just society and part of the cornerstones of that justice is our lack of the death penalty. I’m sure others would disagree but I’m not sure how a society can regard itself as fair when it is happy to kill people. Stories of the death penalty fascinate me, be they novels such as John Grisham’s The Confession or plays based on the experiences of exonerated prisoners. The blurb for Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton was enough to have me hooked and I knew this was a book I had to read.

The narrator is the Noa P. Singleton of the title, a thirty-five year old woman who has been on death row for 10 years since killing Sarah Dixon. She makes no excuse for her crime and show little interest when a new lawyer arrives six months before her scheduled execution date bringing hope of clemency. Hired by Sarah’s mother, Marlene Dixon, the eager young lawyer is desperate to hear Noa’s story and ensure she does not face the death penalty. Noa’s story raises more questions than it answers – What happened that New Year’s Day in Sarah’s apartment? Is she guilty? Why is Marlene, a woman who previously detested Noa so desperate to stave off her execution? And what does the P in Noa’s name stand for?

I really enjoyed this book – after the first 100 or so pages. I’m not saying they were bad – far from it, but almost quarter of the book is far too long to spend on build-up and back-story and I was starting to get a little impatient. Once the connection between Noa and Sarah was established and Noa begins to recount the story of her arrest and trial, the book really takes off and for the final three-quarters of the book I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

Noa is an intriguing character – she isn’t (as far as we know) an unjustly convicted woman. She belongs in prison and on death row. She isn’t sympathetic in the slightest. She’s aggressive, angry and refuses to help her lawyer who is desperate to save her life. She’s also a completely unreliable narrator, we’re never quite sure if she is sharing the truth with us as readers, particularly after Chapter 16 which consists of the words “Please disregard that last chapter”. Despite this, we still want her to succeed and avoid execution. It’s beautiful story-telling that leads us to support and feel empathy for such an unsympathetic character.

Silver’s writing is intelligent and her experience as a lawyer shines through – she has a firm grasp on the narrative which never wanders. Questions of morality, family connections and true responsibility are all raised and the reader has to make up their own mind on which woman – Noa, Sarah or Marlene – deserves their sympathy. For a book with such a serious subject there were flashes of humour and it wasn’t all doom and gloom – a welcome feature in a story which could have been overly heavy.

This was a (mostly) gripping story which looked at the death penalty from a whole new angle and introduces a unique anti-heroine who we, against all expectations, want to see live. A very good book which I thoroughly recommend.

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