“The prisoners who are sent to E Block at Cold Mountain Penitentiary come and then they… go. One man, however is destined to make a lasting impression.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Set on the penitentiary’s death row and told from the point of view of the head warder on the block, The Green Mile is a curious story in many ways but it is, from my perspective one of King’s finest stories. It was also made into a rather good film.

The setting is certainly an absorbing one, giving the reader an up close and personal view of life and death in an American prison’s execution block.

There are some fascinating character studies of the staff and inmates and a graphic account of an execution by electric chair. Surprisingly enough, this is a feel-good story where the warders are, for the most part, decent, likeable and sensitive people and even the condemned inmates turn out to be “just human” (again, for the most part). Is this a rose-tinted view of the death penalty, it’s victims and executors? I don’t think so, but not having any direct experience (thank god!) I can’t say for sure. It is certainly a /different/ view and that makes for a good read and, if the reader finishes the story feeling a little warmer, then who can complain?

The story deals with the sort of themes that you would expect from King; spirituality, good and evil, redemption and a strong christian religious undercurrent, with a Christ-figure, supernatural healing and martyrdom. No supernatural /horror/ though, if that’s what you’re looking for. The horror comes solely from what one man, if so-minded, can do to another.

As I mentioned, there are several execution scenes; one botched electrocution is rather more gruesome than the others and King, as one would expect, pulls no punches here, so beware. But then you weren’t expecting pixies collecting magic powder in the enchanted forest, were you? As an interesting aside, according to Wikipedia, the word “electrocution” which we use now to describe any electric shock (accidental or otherwise) is actually a portmanteau of “electrical” and “execution” and was coined to describe the method of dispatch. Now you know.

It was originally released in six installments during 1996 and this does result in a somewhat episodic structure. This isn’t overly disruptive but there are some rather annoying repetitive “pick-ups” at the beginning of each section. The story also jumps back and forth in time between the contemporary period (set in during the Great Depression in the 1930’s) and the narrator’s “twilight years” in an old folks home. On the whole, this format is a little jagged and it is, I think, the only cause for complaint about the novel (and a small one at that). Actually not the only one. The ending is a little flat, a bit of an anti-climax, but you can’t have everything.

 

Reviewed by:

Campbell McAulay

Added 22nd April 2015

More Reviews By
Campbell McAulay

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