Monday 13 April 2015

The Green Mile

I had seen Frank Darabont's screening of this novel before I started reading King's books. I'm not sure exactly how many years ago that was but it must have been at least 10, or even more. The movie impressed me a lot. It was a fairly simple story but it was presented exceptionally well. I think part of the reason I liked it so much was the cast. Each of the actors who played in the movie gave a very good performance, the late Michael Clarke Duncan in  the movie was the main reason I've been putting off reading the novel. I saw no point in it as I thought that I wouldn't find that captivating since I remembered so much from the movie. I was very wrong.

First of all, the novel is divided into six volumes. The first one, "Two Dead Girls", was published in the March of  1996, and the final volume "Coffey on the Mile", was released in the May of the same year. King did it as an experiment as he was a fan of serial novels and wanted to provide his Constant Readers with lasting cliffhangers. 

Set in the 1930's (the times of great economic crisis in the US), the plot of novel focuses on John Coffey, the new inmate in State Penitentiary,  also known as the Green Mile. He is sentenced to a death penalty for murdering and raping two girls. As soon as he enters the Mile, the supervisor Paul Edgecombe and other guardians realize that Coffey is exceptional, and not only because of his enormous size. 

Paul Edgecombe is the narrator of the story. King combines the narrative from his time at the Mile with the one he tells as an old man living in a nursing home. Each volume of the novel begins with the latter. It's an interesting solution as we get some foreshadowing of events from the start of each successive part of the novel. Old Paul in the main narrator in the story, but (unlike in the movie), there are important events happening both in the main story he is telling, and during the time he is in a nursing home. Paul often reflects on the nature of humankind. His job offers him unique insights into the hearts and souls of men. He supervises a section of State Penitentiary where people are imprisoned before their executions for horrible crimes committed in the past. At the same time, he sees them at their most vulnerable moments when they repent for their sins and try to come to terms with imminent death. John Coffey doesn't fit into these patterns. He appears to be a peaceful, quiet, even slightly naive person. His often cries, rarely talks and is afraid of the dark. As Paul Edgecombe and other guardians are about to discover, there is much more to him than just these "natural" characteristics.

Another intriguing inmate is called Eduard "Del" Delacroix. He is sentenced for raping and killing a girl and causing death of many other people that perished in a fire he started in an attempt to cover up his crime. He is presented as a simple, kind-hearted man. Del befriends a... mouse whom he calls Mr Jingles. As ridiculous as it sounds, the description of their friendship is one of the most powerful I've ever read about in a novel.  There is also evil in "the Green Mile". It is personified by Percy Wetmore, a young sadistic guard who got the job thanks to his "connections" in the upper classes. He enjoys humiliating prisoners and reminding them that he can cause them trouble. Percy is the epitome of malignant side of human nature. He was very well portrayed by Doug Hutchison in the movie and I still kept that image in my mind as I was reading the novel. 

I would recommend reading "The Green Mile" to everyone, not only fans of Stephen King. The novel is very well written, it is filled with interesting, memorable characters, and the narrative is very powerful. Paul Edgecomb's reflections offer many insights into the nature of humanity, the nature of good and evil, and the process of aging. Many of these are bitter and sad, but they are also deep and thought-provoking. I'd definitely put this novel among my top three Stephen King books (right beside "The Stand" and "The Dark Tower" series).

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