Cell’s Belles

What is a prison? There is a physical manifestation of the concept, but what about the prisons of our own design? Worse, what if we manage to escape from prison, and find that we are still trapped within walls, captured in a cell from which there is no escape? The concept of a prison reverberated in my reading of Shani Boianjiu’s IDF-set novel The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, and Elizabeth K. Silver’s twisty book The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Besides sharing long titles, these novels resemble each other, as they suggest that the prison of our minds may actually be preferred to possessing freedom. It may be a stretch to suggest that being enlisted in Israeli Defense Forces is akin to being in a cell, but based on my experience on Birthright, and certainly from Boianjiu’s depiction in the novel, enlisting in the IDF seems akin to being in a sort of jail. Certainly, the nature of the enlistment for women: monitoring checkpoints, dealing with uprisings, standing for long stretches in blazing heat, seem to be something of a prison cell.

The narrators of The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, young Israeli women, (though not all born in Israel), portray their experiences in the IDF through a sense of forced incarceration, (enlistment is mandatory), though, interestingly, as an escape from the usual grind, as a wonderful passage on pages 193 and 194 showed. I enjoyed seeing multiple perspectives, but at times, I found it difficult to differentiate the voices of the different characters. My favourite episode was towards the end of the book, in which a character, Lea, searches for a job and a sense of identity after leaving the army. It is the time afterwards, Boianjiu suggests, that may be the most incarcerating of all.

Silver’s novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, features a single narrator, (mainly), the titular Singleton, and, like many of my favourite books, Singleton is the classic unreliable narrator. Singleton sits in prison, convicted of murder, and counting down the days until she is executed, (a clever device to separate chapters and sections). Silver reveals information slowly, and Singleton is extremely wry in her narration, (I found the book quite funny in places, though it certainly did not remind me of  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, as many others have pointed out).

Slowly but surely, we start to see details of the crime that was committed, though the details are meted out carefully, making the book an extremely quick read, (which is not a bad thing). However, the final tip of the hat did not have the emotional impact that I thought it would, and I almost wanted to see it play out differently. Yet it is not revealing too much when I say that Noa P. Singleton manages to escape from her prison, and gain entrance into a new cell, one that is far less confining.

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