2 April 2013

To Kill A Mockingbird

Title: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Year published: 1961
Pages: 309
Time It Took To Read: Two days

I take little joy in classic literature most of the time. It reminds me of my GCSEs and AS levels, when reading was for critical analysis, not pleasure. This means that I have actively avoided a lot of very good books, for no better reason than they have, at some point, caused a class of 17 year olds to bury their heads in their arms because they just don't CARE WHY JED TURNED UP AT THE BALLOON ACCIDENT, CHRIST MCEWEN STOP GOING ON, YOU JOYLESS WANKER (Enduring Love there, still scarring me after 11 years).

So, my sister lent me this, after expressing deep disbelief that I'd never read it, and I devoured it in two days. I like Southern fiction. It's an alien universe, with its own culture and ideology, one of the many reasons I think the True Blood stories work so well there.
The story centres on a rape trial, but is about inequality, racism and hypocrisy. It is set in the mid-30s, in Maycomb, Alabama, and centres on the Finch family. Atticus is a lawyer, and a widow; father to Jem and Scout. Scout, our narrator, is 6 at the beginning, and nearly 9 by the end. She is a vehement, spitting, fighting  kitten-child, with a strong sense of injustice. The world, through her eyes, is a mass of contradictions, and her struggle to understand them becomes the reader's struggle.
The heart of the story is racism, both cultural and direct. A black man has been charged with the rape of a white woman, and the whole area is baying for blood. Atticus has been elected to defend the man, which gains the ire and insult of the community. Nobody is willing to consider that the man may be innocent. Slavery has been abolished for nearly seventy years, but the black community are still seen as inferior, dangerous and subhuman.
Scout, however, is more concerned with trying to rehabilitate her mysterious neighbour Boo Radley, not seen in her lifetime.
The characterisation is sublime, and evocative. The world of Maycomb, with all its contradictions and imperfections, is easily envisioned. Passing events in their lives, like the arrival of snow or a mad dog, are given all the meaning that they would have for a growing child.  The atmosphere of the looming trial, is palpable. Its drama, humour and significance is perfectly expressed. The ending is shocking, but ties everything together.
Amazing book, in short. One everyone should read, especially those who take civil rights and equality for granted.

Book count:  20/50

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