Book Review: The Green Mile – Stephen King

    “ON the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job? My job?”

    Image result for the green mile paul edgecomb

    In 1932, Paul Edgecombe worked as Ward Superintendent on the ‘Green Mile’ and faced this very dilemma the day John Coffey was scheduled to ride the lightning in ‘Old Sparky’, an oddly endearing term for the electric chair at Cold Mountain Penitentiary’s E block.

    The book is written in the form of a memoir by Edgecombe himself, who recalls, 60 years later, the events that transpired in the time that John Coffey spent on the Green Mile, awaiting execution for the brutal rape and murder of young twin girls, Kathe and Cora Detterick.

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    At a staggering six feet and eight inches tall, John Coffey is a hulking behemoth of a man and Edgecombe has no difficulty recalling his introduction to the mile:

    “It was still as hot as the hinges of hell, October or not. The door to the exercise yard opened, letting in a flood of brilliant light and the biggest man I’ve ever seen, except for some of the basketball fellows… He wore chains on his arms and across his water-barrel of a chest; he wore leg-irons on his ankles and shuffled a chain between them that sounded like cascading coins as it ran along the lime-coloured corridor between the cells.”
    “…he was broad in the shoulders and deep through the chest, laced over with muscle in every direction…”

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    However, the wardens on E Block soon realise that there is more to John Coffey than initially meets the eye. Much, much more.

    Despite his intimidating monumental stature, John Coffey’s gentle, childlike nature and docile demeanour become apparent almost immediately as he placidly settles into his cell and is welcomed by Edgecombe.
    Edgecombe and his colleagues are taken aback following their first conversation with John Coffey in his cell.

    “Your time here can be easy or hard, big boy, it all depends on you. I’m here to say you might as well make it easy on all of us, because it comes to the same in the end. We’ll treat you as right as you deserve. Do you have any questions?” asks Edgecombe as he weighs up Coffey’s immense presence in the tiny cell.

    “’Do you leave a light on after bedtime?’ [John Coffey] asked right away, as if he had only been waiting for the chance.”

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    As the story plays out and the clock ticks ever closer to Coffey’s imminent execution, the wardens on E Block begin to question the horrific charges against the gentle giant accused of the savage rape and murder of the Detterick twins, especially when they discover that John Coffey has supernatural healing powers and empathetic abilities transcending the boundaries of anything they have ever witnessed before.

    Decades later, Paul Edgecombe is living out his days in a home for the aged, a prison of its own kind with striking parallels between his experiences on the mile at Cold Mountain Penitentiary and his daily encounters in 1996 at the Georgia Pines Nursing Home.

    The book jumps between the events of 1932, the year of John Coffey on the Green Mile, and Edgecombe’s recollection of those life-altering events as he shares the story with Elaine Connelly.

    Image result for the green mile paul edgecombe and elaine connelly

    The past and the present collide as Elaine begins to piece together the puzzle of Paul’s seemingly far-fetched account of what transpired during and after Coffey’s surreal stint in E Block, amid murderers, rapists, arsonists and a sadistic prison guard with a homophobic streak and a flair for the dramatic.

    Within the stoic and unforgiving brick walls of E Block and the languorous and utterly final length of the Green Mile, the individual storylines of each character are juxtaposed into a gripping and compelling tale as they culminate into a cleverly thought out climax and conclusion.

    The Green Mile was originally published in six paperback volumes. The first, subtitled The Two Dead Girls was published on March 28, 1996, with new volumes following monthly until the final volume, Coffey on the Mile, was released on August 29, 1996. The novel was republished as a single paperback volume on May 5, 1997.

    The Green Mile won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 1996 and, in 1997, was nominated as Best Novel for the British Fantasy Award and the Locus Award.

    In 1999, a film version of the book was released, with Tom Hanks playing the lead role of the 1932 Paul Edgecombe and starring the late Michael Clark Duncan in an epic and magnificently heart wrenching portrayal of John Coffey.


    “We each owe a death, there are no exceptions, I know that, but sometimes, oh God, the Green Mile is so long”

    “The Green Mile is 453 pages of literary greatness, page after page of gripping storytelling by an absolute master of the trade. Utterly captivating from the first line of the introduction to the very last full stop of the Author’s Afterword.
    “This kind of story is what reading is all about… the adventure that ensues from the first page to the last, the enthrallment that grabs a hold of you at the turn of each page, holding you hostage as you look up at the clock, realising it’s 3am, convincing yourself, “just one more page… just one more chapter… ah, screw it! Who needs sleep anyway, right…?”

    Stephen King, who has always been one of my favourite authors, has outdone himself with this one and I find myself more complete for having read this masterpiece. However, at the same time, it leaves me with that familiar hollow feeling that usually accompanies the conclusion of a good book. You know, that feeling you get when you finish reading a great literary masterpiece and you start to wonder, “What will I do with my life now…?”

    “Stephen King, you truly are one of, if not THE, most brilliant authors of our time. The greatest, slightly twisted and somewhat disturbing, which is precisely the way I like it, and most captivating storyteller to ever channel the dark recesses of his mind from his imagination into words on paper.” – Elaine Rodway

    The Green Mile is available at Vryheid Library.


    Elaine Rodway

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