Friday, February 25, 2011

The Confession

book review

Book: The Confession
Author: John Grisham

With the publication of each of John Grisham’s latest novels, I become more certain that I keep slogging through his work out of a misplaced loyalty to a writer who is long past his prime. Since the first time I came across his book in the school library in the late ‘90s, I have read all but one of his legal thrillers (the only exception being the young-adult effort, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer), but after going through his recent works, I am thoroughly confused: what happened? The Associate (2009) rambled on till you got to the ending and, well, it didn’t have one; The Appeal (2008) seemed like a bad rendition of Erin Brockovich; and The Broker (2005)... I can’t even remember what that was about, and that can’t be a good sign.

His latest legal thriller, The Confession, doesn’t help the lawyer-turned-writer overcome his slump as he continues down the path of unimpressive fiction. The story revolves around a wrongfully convicted man who, despite his lawyer’s best efforts, is being executed for a murder he did not commit, but just a few days before the sentence is set to be carried out, the real killer confesses to the crime before a Lutheran pastor. Will they be able to stop the execution? Or will an innocent man lose his life for something he did not do?

The underlying story is based on a complex issue and the plot clearly has a lot of potential, but the novel itself is a complete letdown. The Confession fails on a depressing number of levels - as an interesting story, as an intriguing narrative and work of literature, and as a case against the legal system and death penalty. The narrative drags on for the most part; the pace picks up in the second section as the reverend and real culprit race to halt the execution, and you can see glimpses of the old Grisham shine through in places, but overall the same point could’ve been gotten across in about half the number of pages. As for the content, it’s all just black and white when what it really needed was a generous helping of grey. The characters lack complexity and are mostly one-dimensional absolutes - the bad ones are plain horrid, the good ones angels - and it’s not so much human error or a few bad apples causing the injustice, but the whole damn system that is staggeringly hellbent on executing an obviously innocent man. And yes, there is absolutely no doubt about the accused person’s guilt; he is flabbergastingly innocent and being blatantly set up, dagnabbit!

While I appreciate the fact that someone is trying to make a statement against the flaws with the legal system and think the author has every right to air his point of view, The Confession does not work as a legal thriller because it lacks balance and reads less like a convincing piece of fiction and more like a rant with the writer tediously belabouring the point to death. What’s worse, though, is that it is predictable to the point of frustration, and Grisham’s wry wit and intriguing character development are nowhere to be found. What makes it even more frustrating is that the theme is valid, the core plot is there; then why is the novel’s execution so lazy?

How can someone who once produced gripping works like A Time To Kill and The Chamber come up with something as immensely unexciting as The Confession? Has success made him complacent? Or were his initial efforts just not as good as I seem to remember and have simply glorified them through nostalgia? I’d like to say John Grisham has written some remarkable books and The Confession just isn’t one of them, but after reading so many back-to-back dismal efforts by the same author, I’m just not sure anymore.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25 February, 2011

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