First published as a six-part monthly serial novel beginning March 1996 and concluding August 1996, US author Stephen King’s tale ‘The Green Mile’ was only later published as a complete novel in May of 1997.  The tale was well received and went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 1996.

The tale was later adapted into the film of the same name in 1999 by Frank Darabont starring Tom Hanks and the very suitably chosen Michael Clarke Duncan.

DLS Synopsis:
It’s 1996 and Paul Edgecombe is getting old.  But he’s still got his memories and his stories.  And one particular story from his life has never left him.  One that took place over sixty years ago now, from back when he worked the ‘Green Mile’ at Cold Mountain Penitentiary.  And he’s finally ready to tell the tale for the first time.  And so Paul Edgecombe, the now-retired block supervisor from the Green Mile death row, begins to tell his story to his closest companion in the retirement home – a woman named Elaine Connelly.  A story about the man he got to know named John Coffey.

It was back in 1932 when John Coffey, a giant of a man, arrived at Cold Mountain Penitentiary after being convicted of the rape and murder of two young local girls.  Coffey’s defence on the murder was weak at best.  Being a black man, with no fixed abode, found cradling the two dead girls in his huge hands; he never had a hope in hell.  And so his arrival on to the ‘Green Mile’ death row was of no surprise to Edgecombe or any of the other wardens.

Along either side of the green linoleum stretch known as the ‘Green Mile’, line the handful of cells for those awaiting their death by ‘Old Sparky’.  At the time of Coffey’s arrival onto ‘The Mile’, the stretch had become the last home for the psychotic ‘Billy the Kid’ Wharton, the well-tempered Eduard Delacroix, the Native American Arlen Bitterbuck and once real estate executive Arthur Flanders.

As the convicted inmates await their date with the electric chair, the guards responsible for them try to make their time there as regular and without incident as possible.  That is, except for Percy Wetmore, who’s sadistic and uncaring nature makes him far from a suitable officer for ‘The Mile’.

As the days go by, the guards get to know those that they are responsible for.  And Paul Edgecombe is no exception to this.  He has the ability to empathise with most of those who find themselves awaiting their imminent death on ‘The Mile’.  But there’s something different about this new giant of a man that has just walked onto his ‘Mile’.  Something that seems out of place in such a lonely and desolate stretch.  Something that makes Coffey’s incarceration on the Mile seem very, very wrong.

The man is a convicted rapist and killer of the worst possible type.  But what is said about him and what is sitting quietly in front of him, afraid of the dark, now seem like two very different people.  Could John Coffey be this vile and depraved killer that he has been convicted of being in a court of law?...or has there been a truly terrible mistake?

Whatever the truth behind the man is, there’s one thing for certain: John Coffey’s days are numbered…

DLS Review:
Most people have seen the film if not read the book.  Indeed, Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’ has become one of the author’s better-known and almost universally revered stories.  Perhaps this is because he has once again taken up the reins of a powerful and emotive thriller, rather than sticking to the horror genre that he has become most well-known and associated with.

The setting for the story is certainly an inherently depressing and emotionally provocative one.  Whatever the reader’s own personal stance on capital punishment is, the instant jab in the guts (whether a feeling of justice or absolute disgust) at the premise of inmates waiting for a lawful execution, is immediate and compelling.

The tale from the outset feels very American.  It’s very reliant on traditional values, traditional views, and more importantly – traditional prejudices.  The moment John Coffey is first introduced to the reader, with the horrendous crimes that he has supposedly just committed, laid out before him, the reader’s emotions are suddenly engaged and the story starts to take its effect.

As the story progresses, so King weaves a mesmerising but incredibly localised tale, with human interaction at the very heart of it.  The absolute strength of the story comes purely from the characters that King has so lovingly created.  It’s this overwhelming attention to the characterisation that really pulls on the reader’s heartstrings time and time again.

The tale is written in the first-person perspective of Paul Edgecombe, as both the ‘present day narrator’ and through-his-eyes from back in 1932 when Coffey first arrived on to the Green Mile.  This narration allows for much greater warmth to the telling of the story to come out, with the narrator’s personal emotions delivered directly to the reader.  And that’s really the key to the whole story.  It’s such an emotional rollercoaster, with a magnificent feel-good-factor running alongside a cold and unavoidably bleak undertone.  Nothing is done by halves here.  Everything (and I mean everything) seems amplified on the Mile.

King fills the novel with his usual black & white ‘good versus evil’ spiritualism, with a very strongly suggestive veering towards Christian self-sacrifice.  To be honest, although included in a reasonably light manner, the whole religious undertone can begin to grate on the more agnostic of reader’s.  Yes it’s only a minor element to the story, but its slow and stubborn leaning towards powerfully suggestive Christian symbolism can quickly became annoying.

As heart-warming and emotionally captivating as the novel is, it does have its gruesome and down-beaten moments.  It’s a Stephen King novel after all, so it’s not going to completely pander to an altogether subdued audience per se.  At times the novel will grab the reader by the throat, angering and frustrating them with the slightest of injustices.  Other times the sheer compassion delivered by so many of the characters will pull you into the warmth of the tale, with your guard almost completely down.

As I’ve said in numerous reviews of King’s work – he knows how to spin a good yarn.  He really knows how to engage the reader, how to pull on their heartstrings whenever he wants, and ultimately how to make a story burst with a very passionately human energy.  It’s this that makes him such a loved and coveted author the world over.

And this novel is perhaps one of his finest.

The novel runs for a total of 480 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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