Considering my last review was so positive, I decided it was time to restore my critical equilibrium - taking into an account I'm a fairly negative and cynical reader, I need to darken my image. Bring in The Green Mile!
Stephen King is an exceptional writer, and without a doubt my favourite contemporary horror author of all time. The Stand is a masterpiece. The Shining is the only book which pierced my imagination with such intensity I genuinely had hallucinations after reading. More on that later.
However, there seem to be a few novels by Stephen King which don't seem to reach the bar he had set for himself. The Green Mile, unfortunately, is one of them...
The Green Mile is a serial novel, the first few chapters published originally in 1996 under the title 'The Two Dead Girls', followed by five installments which were released monthly. In 1999 the film of the same title was released, protagonist Paul Edgecomb played by Tom Hanks, and given an 8.5 on IMDb.
The story is narrated from a first person perspective by Paul Edgecomb, a prison officer on Death Row in Cold Mountain Penitentiary. The narration pivots between Edgecomb retrospectively examining events of suspected murderer John Coffey, and the present, in which Edgecomb in a resident of Georgia Pines Nursing Home. 'The Green Mile' is the nickname of the green-carpeted corridor leading up to the electric chair, in which all prison inmates take their last steps before death. When new prison inmate John Coffey arrives with a solemn stare and brutal backstory, Edgecomb discovers something strange about the suspected murderer.
SO. That's the general premise of the story. Firstly, let it be said this story is not for the faint hearted. The crime Coffey is guilty of is the violent rape and murder of two young girls, and some descriptions are so graphic they made my stomach turn. While the narration is pin pricked every once in a while with some humour, it seems so dark it simply contributes to the solemn tone.
What I found problematic about this novel is there seemed to be too many characters and story lines to focus on the one at the core of the novel; Edgecomb is unsettled by Coffey because of the strange powers he possesses, and there is a lingering feeling that something is deeply wrong. However, the magical aspect to the story is stifled by almost irrelevant story lines; aspects which King zones in on seem to have complete significance, however it suddenly becomes apparent they pay little meaning to the story. For example, 'The Green Mile' is not only home to death row inmates but also a mouse; a creature that develops an attachment to inmate Eduard Delacroix and seems to far exceed an animal's natural intelligence. At one point, the story was completely immersed with examining this creature and the tricks it could do, how it seemed to sense the good guys from the bad, and how absorbed some of the men were in it's intelligence. While it appeared this story line would progress into something much larger (perhaps something involving the strange magical abilities Coffey possesses) the story is summarized abruptly when we realize it's only purpose was demonstrating the extent of Coffey's magical abilities.
This story is 430 pages, and as interesting at the actual story is, it could easily have been summarized in 100 if we cut out all extraneous and irrelevant story lines.
The reason why The Green Mile does not live up to King's previous novels (in my opinion) is the restriction of a one person perspective. Stephen King thrives in multiple narrations because it allows him to explore each independent character and we understand the world from a much vaster view. First-person narration means that King can not overwhelm the character with events therefore they seem to be interspersed with irrelevancies - I'm not sure if this makes sense! However, I feel King is restricted in this circumstance. The Stand, for example, was written from around 15 narrations and really allowed King to roam freely and really release his ideas and creativity. The Green Mile means King has to confide events to Edgecomb, and anything that is out of sight from this character does not exist in this world.
Perhaps, the fact the novel was serialized caused serious issues. Knowing the story must be released in six installments it must have been essential to pad out the story, therefore stifling some of the most important aspects. I think if the novel was released purely as a stand alone book, we may not have had this problem.
In the literary world, I would give this book 7/10, because the writing is magnificent and the story is captivating. However, in Stephen King world, I would have to say 4/10.
Thanks for reading.