‘The Green Mile: those who walk it do not return, because at the end of that walk is the room in which sits Cold Mountain Penitentiary’s electric chair. In 1932 the newest resident on death row is John Coffey, a giant of a black man convicted of the brutal murder of two little girls. But nothing is as it seems with John Coffey, and around him unfolds a bizarre and horrifying story.
Evil murderer or holy innocent- whichever he is- Coffey has strange powers which may yet offer salvation to others, even if they can do nothing to save him.’
When I first joined my Creative Writing class back in September the one thing my teacher stressed to me was that all the best writers read- a lot. It wasn’t a new concept to me, I’d always found the best way to improve my writing was to read as much as I could get my hands on. My teacher said that if you want to be a successful writer you need to read a lot- especially in the genre you’re writing in. Now, recently I’ve been trying to broaden my book shelves and read books that I wouldn’t normally read. I’ve put aside the Young Adult Fiction (for now) and have moved on to thrillers, science fiction, dystopian and other genres that never interested me before now.
One of those genres is horror. Now, usually I wouldn’t touch horror with a ten foot barge pole. I am not good with scary stuff and to be honest I’m not one of those people who can get a thrill out of being scared. But, in all our workshops discussing good writers to read if you want to improve your own skills the name Stephen King came up an awful lot. Everybody who had read even one of his books was singing his praises so I thought maybe if I looked through a list of some of the books he’d done I might find one or two that didn’t look too scary. No such luck I’m afraid, but what I did find was that two of my favourite films, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, were actually based on novels by King.
Now I have to admit that Shawshank was an incredibly uncomfortable film for me to watch and The Green Mile gave me nightmares for years. But I figured hey, if I can survive the films then the books should be fairly ok… ish. So I popped down to my local bookshop and got The Green Mile.
First off, it’s immediately apparent when starting the book that King is an absolute master of what he does. The narrator, Paul Edgecombe, was very present and lifelike from the very first page. I have to say if I’m ever able to pull off a narrator even half as good as he does I’ll be unendurably smug. But of course, the narrator’s no use if he doesn’t have an interesting story to tell and my word interesting doesn’t begin to cover it. The intricate plot of The Green Mile, weaving together Edgecombe, John Coffey, Eduard Delacroix, William Wharton and the ever present shadow of death was breathtaking.
There wasn’t a single moment for me that felt unnecessary or too much. The sub plots of Coffey’s crime and the terminal illness of the warden’s wife were fantastic and did not only ensure that each part of the novel was just as miraculous as the last but that the plot moved on at a marvellous pace. I didn’t even get remotely bored when King dwelled on the narrator’s more present situation stuck in the care home as I thought I might. King knows just how to draw out the story just enough to give you a respite but not enough to leave you impatient to get back to the action.
For me, King’s most powerful tool is characterisation. I remember when watching the film as a young child the image of William Wharton coming out from behind the screen door in the big reveal haunted my nightmares for years. In fact, it still gives me an unpleasant tingling sensation in my spine and I feel the urge to run. The book gives that same effect and more. The characters of Wharton, Percy Wetmore and Brad Dolan are men that you can’t help but despise. Now I’m all for villains with troubled back stories who have turned to evil for their own reasons but there’s just something about having someone who is just simply a complete prick and you can hate without feeling any sympathy for.
The fact that King is able to make you like characters like Delacroix, despite them being a murderer who seems to feel little to no guilt about his crime. And yet he still manages to make you want to stop reading at the mention of Delacroix walking the mile, as though the act of putting down the book might save him. But no, time passes and there are some things even someone as blessed as Coffey cannot stop.
The argument of whether someone as pure as Coffey would be able to survive in a world as cruel as this one is one that I will keep with me for some time after reading this novel. That’s the great thing about this novel that will keep it as one of my all time favourites, its the sort of book with a story so powerful you can’t help but engage with it. Certain scenes and quotes from that book will stick with me for quite some time I think because King is nothing short of a Master of his craft.
An easy 5 stars.