Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
To Kill A Mockingbird: Harper Lee, July 11—20, 2015
My rating: ♦♦♦♦♦
For years, To Kill A Mockingbird has been considered a classic. Such reverent hype is rarely justified, but in this case it may well be so. Even on my third reading (following 2004 and 2012), it doesn’t lose interest or charm.
Set in the fictional 1930s Deep South county of Maycomb is a village where everybody knows everybody and, spanning three years, we hear the account of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.
Mockingbird is so densely packed with themes and foreshadowing that it is difficult to succinctly and accurately summarise what it is about. It is, of course, best known for its most dramatic scenes; the final act in which Scout’s lawyer father Atticus defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white girl. That he would betray his people for the good of a Negro scandalises the town, which dumbfounds his young children.
However this is not a legal thriller and the Tom Robinson case is only part of a longer story. At its heart, it’s a coming-of-age piece through the eyes of a girl from her sixth to eighth years in a time and place where so much of race, gender and class expectations sit uneasily in her mind. Through the innocence of the child we see the world adults have created.
It’s unclear when Scout wrote the book, as it were, because Lee’s wonderful narration blends the contemporary childlike voice of Scout with an older, more insightful version of her.
Her exploration of life comes by playing with her brother Jem and their neighbour Dill, encountering many neighbours along the way. The most notable is Boo Radley, a source of morbid fascination to the children due to his reclusiveness and urban myths about his background. The significance of their changing perception of him in absentia is a study all of its own.
Besides the enchanting trio of friends, Atticus makes Mockingbird what it is. Lawyers will say he is a model of their profession but in reality he is a model of a man. He’s imperfect, vitally, and that emotional detachment makes him less intimidating to the reader, but his understanding of humanity and endless compassion is inspiring. Nobody can read this book and fail to want to be more like Atticus.
In this one book, we spend years in a place that feels not only real, but like home. We join a family and society and face the darkest, ugliest places in human nature in a funny and optimistic way. It’s a book that can be unpacked and studied for its richness, or enjoyed for its sheer brilliance.
Mockingbird has never been out of print in more than 50 years. It won’t be any time soon.