A Critical Analysis of The Client
Judging from the reception history and public acclaim of his works, there can be little doubt that John Grisham is a compelling novelist. All of his books have enjoyed the status of becoming number one bestsellers, some for many weeks, if not months in
a row. As is also know, the themes of his books tend to revolve around a complex legal issue, complete with murder, betrayal, and various covert operations. While these tales can be deemed outlandish and improbable by anyone with a logical mind, it is i
nescapable that the books themselves are difficult to put down, and effectively capture the reader with the absorbing stories they tell. However, despite the fact that the above statements regarding Grisham's works are generally accepted truths, many que
stions remain unanswered. For instance, just how successful have Grisham's various works been and for how long? Why do his books seem to lend themselves so easily to portrayal on the movie screen? Also, and perhaps most importantly, what is it about Gr
isham's novels which attract readers to the extent they have? This essay seeks to explore answers to the above questions with regard to The Client, and various other works by Grisham.
Before delving into theoretical ideas about why The Client was so popular, it will be helpful to know its history on the bestseller list. The following information and conclusions come from the Publisher's Weekly Bestseller List, and is intended to repr
esent the book's ranking on the majority of well-know bestseller lists, though this author allows that actual numbers may vary slightly.
As is shown by some of the information listed in preceding sections of the database, The Client was first published by Doubleday in March of 1993. This first publication was done in hardback only; there was no simultaneous publication in paperback versi
on. As of March 1993, Grisham had three other books circulating in paperback version: The Firm, A Time to Kill, and The Pelican Brief. For the purposes of distinction, Publisher's Weekly breaks down its bestseller lists into different categories. List
ed are hardback bestsellers and paperback or mass-market bestsellers. It is important to remember that Grisham's first three novels, The Firm, A Time to Kill, and The Pelican Brief were appearing on the paperback bestseller list, while The Client was fou
nd only on the hardback bestseller list at this point. What follows is a chart of the actual bestseller list results for The Client with discussion to follow.
As the numbers tend to suggest, The Client was a highly lucrative and enormously successful novel for Grisham. However, many conclusions can be drawn from a deeper examination of the numbers themselves. First of all, The Client made its first appearanc
e on the bestseller list on March 15 at number one. While this author does not know the general trend of débuting bestsellers, it seems amazing that a book would reach the highest position on the list in the first week of its publication. Also interesti
ng is the fact that The Client remained in the number one position for seven weeks, almost two months in a row. Finally, in an era known for fickle readers and fleeting success rates, Grisham's fourth work, The Client, remained on the bestseller list in
its original publication version for eight months in a row.
Various reasons can be given for the initial success of The Client in its original publication form. First of all, Grisham had an established reputation in place with his previous three books. All of these books also reached the pinnacle of the bestsel
ler list, though it is important to note that The Firm was the his first book to reach number one, but it was his second published work; A Time to Kill was actually the first published. Also, The Firm appeared in movie theaters immediately before, and du
ring the publication of The Client, further increasing Grisham's name recognition value.
Secondly, the previous three novels were still enjoying rampant success on the paperback bestseller list. If fact, for the first three months that The Client was on the hardback bestseller list, all of the other books were still on the paperback list. T
his fact shows that the reading public was interested in Grisham's books in general. However, even this assertion leads to more questions. Was the public interested in Grisham as an author because it felt he provided tried and true entertainment? Is it
possible that the success of The Client was largely owing to the success of the previous books, and without them, it would not have been as well received? While interesting to consider, there is really no ready answer to these questions except to say th
at the general reading populace must have found some merit in The Client or it would not have been as successful as it was for such an extended period of time, the author's previous reputation notwithstanding. This is especially true considering the fact
that the hardback edition of The Client was almost four times as expensive as the paperback versions of the other books.
Finally, it is possible to ascribe the phenomenal initial success of The Client to a well-planned pre-publication marketing campaign by the publisher, Doubleday. It is well known that many books are written for the purpose of eventually becoming a movie.
While it is not known, it is entirely possible to assume that The Client was originally envisioned as a movie, and thus, Doubleday took extra pains to promote it in order to further support the eventual movie version. Whatever the case, The Client was
an amazing success since the day it hit the shelves in bookstores, and probably owes a large credit to the reputation of the books it was following.
The paperback success of The Client followed the success of the hardback version. First published in the beginning of March, 1994, the paperback version from Doubleday shot to the number one position on the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list. Below is a
nother chart of bestseller list information, with discussion to follow.
In a manner closely following the success of the hardback version, the paperback edition of The Client immediately went to the number one position on the bestseller list. As the chart indicates, this prosperity lasted for almost a month, and even then,
the novel hovered in and out of the top five places on the list. Clearly, the public acclaim for Grisham's fourth novel was strong enough to last over eighteen months with amazing results. This is even more striking when contrasted with the less than st
ellar critical repots regarding the novel discussed earlier in this database, and which will be discussed briefly later on in this essay.
Given the above information from Publisher's Weekly, there can be little doubt that The Client was an extremely popular book, and retained its popularity for an extended period of time. However, this raw numbers do little to explain the reason's why rea
ders found the book so enticing; all the numbers tend to show is that many copies of the book were purchased. The discussion which follows is based largely on the opinions of this author, and those opinions are echoed by the majority of the critics who r
eviewed the book.
Perhaps the most apt description of any Grisham book is that it is an easy read. True, the plot is intricate, but the style and tone of the writing make the books page turners, and little intellectual prowess is needed to follow the storyline. The book
lends itself to lazy, summertime reading for entertainment value only, a fact which seems to irritate most critics. In the words of Christopher Lehmann-Haupt from the New York Times, "Once again, as he did in ?The Firm,' Mr. Grisham enraptures us with a
story that has hardly any point." However, perhaps Lehmann-Haupt is missing the point entirely. Any reasonable person will allow that the adventures of Mark Sway are completely improbable, but am more appropriate statement to consider is whether Mr. Gr
isham intended the story to be believable in the first place. Supposing for a second that Grisham did not intend the story to be believable, then perhaps a major step has been taken in determining the story's appeal to the public.
If one takes into account that the book is written in a style that favors a lower reading proficiency, and the notion that the plot could never occur in real life, then the only possible rational for producing the book in the first place is for the purpo
se of entertainment. Clearly, the readers who purchased this book were interested in being charmed or amused. Any person who has read the book must reasonably allow that he was captivated in a way that provided escape from the rigors of everyday existen
ce. At some level, this is one of the chief purposes of books in general. It is certainly true that Grisham produced no literary masterpiece, and judging by the sales of the book, the general population was not interested in buying a masterpiece. Lehma
nn-Haupt said, "So settle into ?The Client' for the captivating read it promises. Just don't look for any surprises. What you expect is more than what you get." For the above reasons, perhaps this statement is misguided. If one takes as true that the
public merely wanted to be entertained, then The Client provided in such a way as to entertain a great many people. All these ideas can be ascribed to the popularity of the movie versions of Grisham's books as well.
The movie version of The Client, starring Susan Serandon and Tommy Lee Jones, was released by Paramount in 1995. Unlike the bestseller list for the book versions, box office information for the movie was not readily available. However, what is more int
eresting is that all of the first four books by Grisham were eventually made into movies, though the first book, A Time to Kill, was actually the last movie made. This forces the critic to ask the following question: Why are Grisham's books so easily ada
ptable to the movie format? Going back to the argument proposed above, the entertainment value of the book is attractive to movie producers. With the exception of A Time to Kill, all of the other books are replete with the type of action that makes for
good movies: scandal, murder, espionage, and government conspiracy. As an aside, A Time to Kill has many of these features, but includes a significant amount of social commentary. Thus, while the books are not believable in the sense of the real world,
when converted to movies, they produce a perfect two hour, brainless escape. It is also interesting that all of the "action" movies were released in the summer months, for the box office tends to favor such movies at that time of year.
The release of the movies tended to cause an upsurge in the public's interest in the book version of the story. For instance, in 1993, when the movie version of The Firm hit the big screen, the paperback version of the story was number 3 on the Publishe
r's Weekly bestseller list. Likewise, the release of The Client in movie format corresponded with an upward move in the paperback bestseller list for the book version. However, the book, at that point, was over two years old. For cursory examinations o
f Grisham's other publications, the phenomenon seems to hold true across the board. Perhaps instead of describing the trends of popular acclaim, these facts point to a brilliant marketing scheme. It appears as if the Grisham formula is on a three year t
ime table. This is to say that the hardback version of the book is first published, followed by the paperback version a year later. Then, within eighteen months of the paperback release, the movie appears at the box office. At least this was the case f
or The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client. Regardless of whether this plan is by design or mere change, it is doubtless that the different versions benefit from each other. As was seen in the chart of bestseller rankings for the hardback version of
The Client, the rankings fell off at about nine months to a year. However, the publishers and producers were ready with another version to hit the stores as soon as the public's affection began to wane. In this manner, the various entities involved act
ually have three years to capitalize on one story.
As was stated at the beginning of this essay, there can be little doubt that John Grisham is a compelling novelist. While the critics squabble about the lack of literary merit in his works, the public continues to buy numerous copies of each new story t
hat Grisham produces. Perhaps that fact, and no other, should be the judge of Grisham's effectiveness as a writer. With his familiar method of the new bestseller with each new calendar year, Grisham provides the modern-day reader with much needed entert
ainment and escapism. Perfect for the airport or the beach in the summertime, his novels are difficult to abandon once started. In the words of Lehmann-Haupt, "What's most irritating is how deeply the plot hooks us." Unfortunately for Lehmann-Haupt, he
misses the forest for the trees. Of course Grisham is no Hemmingway of Faulkner, nor is he trying to be. However, that matters little to the population as a whole, and the people will forever be the judges of bestsellers. If over forty editions in mor
e than eighteen languages, including Braille, is any indication of the mark The Client made in bestseller history, it will surely be remembered as a leader in its genre. I, for one, will be looking for the latest addition to the Grisham library in bookst
ores this spring.