The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

This is a monumental book. It is the only word to describe it. It is long, at over a thousand pages; it is based on fact, so must have demanded an astonishing amount of research and labour; and recounts events that, in their day, were front page news, so the scope for skating over things and losing accuracy was very limited.

The book is about the crime and punishment of Gary Gilmore, in Utah in 1977. It is extremely engrossing and an absolute masterpiece of reportage. The author draws you into the characters of the people involved and the attention to detail blurs the line between fact and interpretation in a way that is consistent througout the book. The final creation is therefore a finely crafted edifice, wrought in muscular and lyrical prose, despite the prosaic nature of some technical aspects of the story.

It is not didactic. Mailer doesn’t offer us a judgement on the effectiveness or morality of capital punishment. He just describes it for us, as a mechanism of retribution managed and executed by human beings.

A great book.


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