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Cannonball Read III: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

By jim of the lowercase | Books | December 5, 2011 |

By jim of the lowercase | Books | December 5, 2011 |

I purchased this novel while taking my younger sister to the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill for a BBC TV showing. It was pre-Christmas and this was purely a whim purchase. All I knew about this novel was it concerned a principled Southern lawyer named Atticus Finch (portrayed by Gregory Peck in the film) defending a black man from a rape charge. So many times have I seen Atticus Finch referenced in pop-culture, that I have no idea if the stereotype of the principled compassionate Southern lawyer came from this novel.

Happily though, the novel was far and away from being this limited or tightly focused. It was a stunning vignette-based look into an old Southern American town and its economic and social issues. Told through the eyes of Atticus’ tom-boy daughter, Scout, this is a deeply moving and affecting account of their town and the people in it. It covers everything from the story of the kids, Jem and Scout Finch reading stories to an old racist lady to help her beat her addiction to morphine before she dies; to the night when Atticus guards his client, Tom Robinson, in the county jail as locals come to lynch him. It is only the advent of Atticus’ children sneaking out of his house and running up to their father that shame the mob into relenting.

The novel paints a believable and layered depiction of this town with depth and vigour. All through the eyes of a precocious young girl. This is Harper Lee’s only novel and it arrives as a fully formed slice of life. I particularly enjoyed the depictions of school life. For example, how some children turned up to school for a day, then went to work their parents fields. An example of playing the system that existed in Simon & Burns’ Life on the Corner but with the American fields being changed to “the corner” and the drug trade. The obsession with the minutiae of childhood are rendered immaculately. Even though I have never lived in the deep south of America in the nineteen thirties, there is still a sense of connection to the childhood Lee created. It sparked memories of a world of being scared of certain dark footpaths because someone had got in a fight there or where obsessions with nooks and hidey-holes are a daily occurence.

After reading this, the novel did the rounds of my family, all of whom had not read it before and all were surprised and moved by the depictions. It was a far less courtroom-lead piece than many had suspected and it had a greater range and impact for that. This is not a classic that is too inaccessible or long, it is the type of novel that superlatives were made for.

For more of jim of the lowercase’s reviews, check out his blog, Everyone’s Favorite Nobody.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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