To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

>> Sunday, July 26, 2015

TITLE: To Kill a Mockingbird
AUTHOR: Harper Lee

PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Grand Central

SETTING: 1930s Southern US
TYPE: Fiction
SERIES: Hmmm...

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

I thought this was going to be a reread. When we decided to pick To Kill a Mockingbird for my book club, I thought "Good, I haven't read it in ages!". But when I started reading it, I quickly realised that I actually never had before. I might have watched the film, and I have certainly read many a discussion about it, but this was my first proper read of the book, and it was an interesting experience.

I read it in May, long before Go Set A Watchman came out, and intended to post a review before then. I made my usual disjointed notes as soon as I finished it, but then I hit a really busy patch in the last few months and all blogging went out the window. It would be pretty much impossible to write a review now that's not coloured by what I've heard about Watchman, so what I'll do is to simply copy those few notes (with some minor edits for grammar and readability -they really were disjointed!) below and be done with it:

- I didn't expect the humour. There were scenes that had me laughing out loud, like Scout's first teacher and the ladies' tea party.

- The characters, even many of the secondary ones, are so well-realised that I could see the events in this book being written from several points of view. The story would then be about something else, though. Which might not be a bad thing...

- From all I knew about it, I expected the book to be about Tom Robinson's case and the trial. It wasn't. It was about Scout and Jem growing up and understanding the world they're living in. Tom Robinson's story was unimportant, other than as an example of injustice. The whole point of it was to be the catalyst for Scout and Jem's coming of age. Very uncomfortable about that. Feels like when the whole point of a disabled character is to change the life of the able-bodied protagonist, that sort of thing.

- This reminded me of Lean In, in that it seems to be all about learning to live in a fundamentally unfair, imperfect system and how to manipulate it to get a little bit of justice. I lost a lot of respect for Atticus for seeing enough value in the system to want to continue living in it, to think it was worth the effort. Probably immature of me. I wanted him to want to change the system. I wanted him to recognise that a system that works as his society did has no value. I wanted him to want to say "fuck the system" and want to tear it down and burn it to pieces. Because that society? That's what should have happened to it. And someone who would be part of a lynch mob is not "basically a good man", just with some blind spots. I found that attitude really troubling.

MY GRADE: It feels like sacrilege, but although I recognise how good a writer Lee was and I enjoyed the story while I was reading it, too much about it bothered me. It was a B for me.


Marianne McA,  26 July 2015 at 23:38  

I've only read it once, after the BBC did their Big Read in 2003 - so, 12 years, and they say you've only as much chance as a stranger of getting things right about your own past after 7 years, so this is really more of an impression than a memory.

While I don't remember the lynch mob incident specifically, I found the book brilliant exactly where it showed the lived experience where being hateful and decent isn't experienced as a dichotomy - which seemed (and N. Ireland, not at all the US, but we were pretty segregated in our own way) recognisable, and infinitely true, and challenging.

I always wondered (and I haven't read the original book yet) whether she didn't write another because her readers took different things from the book than she expected they would.

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