Oh hey, I bet you thought I’d forgotten about you! Fortunately not. It has been a turbulent few weeks as winter always brings the desire to hibernate shaking hands with existentialism. But I finally got good and stuck into this novel and finished it within a few days. This was my first Stephen King novel and honestly I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. This wasn’t helped that I haven’t watched the film adaptation of this novel either so I walked into this narrative with absolutely no clue what it was about. I enjoyed it, but I’m entirely sold on Stephen King. I think reading another novel will help me decide.
The Green Mile was originally a serial, which of course I didn’t realise until I read the afterword. Ultimately it was put together as a novel but some of that recapping can get a little grating. Fortunately the Green Mile is laid out as the memoir of the retired correctional officer Paul Edgecomb so this recapping I can sort of forgive – even if it kind of disrupted my reading flow a bit.
Paul Edgecomb is finally writing down his time on E Block in Cold Mountain Penitentiary. E Block, famous for the inmates destined for Old Sparky – the electric chair – and the green mile itself, a nickname for the long walk along the green linoleum tiles towards an unfortunate end. The bulk of the novel is spent within Edgecomb’s memoir of day to day life on E Block, the duty of care to inmates the guards have, and of course a little of Edgecomb’s personal life. It is a meandering novel that seems to grasp at quite a few strings but manages to tie them up ultimately. I’m not entirely sure if I believe it is a neat knot, but it is a knot.
John Coffey arrives at E Block, like most of the inhabitants, destined for the electric chair. But despite his size and the manner he has arrived at Cold Mountain something doesn’t sit right with Paul. Coffey spends most of his time in tears and as Paul pokes around into Coffey’s case and questions start to rise about whether or not he is guilty.
Characterisation is the harrowing strength of this novel, the inmates are distinct in their mannerisms, personalities, and actions. But there was something else that was striking, and something I was not expecting and that was the gentle touch of the surreal. Perhaps I am revealing how little I know King’s work, but I was not expecting surreal or magical realism to appear within Cold Mountain Penitentiary.
The ending is also a bit of a mixed bag of emotions. There are a few beautiful lines that will probably stay buried in my mind for a while and I am not ashamed to say that this novel drew me to tears because of a particular character. Mr. Jingles. Mr. Jingles is a very clever mouse with oil spot eyes. He turns up in E Block as if he is looking for something or someone and becomes very close friends with one of the inmates. This mouse, reminded me of one of my own with a sudden sadness that surprised me.
I hadn’t thought about Clarence for a while. He was a mouse who would chatter away constantly. He knew his name and spent most of his time asleep in my hoodie, or scampering around my person putting his face into my gauges and trying to burrow into my hair. He was the mouse that lived the longest out of all of them and genuinely looked like a little old man when he passed and going greyer in the face. He was remarkable in that he was the most unafraid creature I have ever encountered from the day I took him home he was launching himself from the cage into my hands with complete trust that I would catch him. It was a bitter grief loosing him. He was very unusual and kindred spirit to Mr. Jingles. So it follows that when Mr. Jingles reappears near the end of the Green Mile – I sobbed my heart out.
I think there is something to be gained from this novel even if you haven’t had an unusual pet. I’m not sure if I will return to it but I may and I will certainly give another King novel a try.