This is my review of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
The better to appreciate Harper Lee's recently discovered prequel to this celebrated classic about life in segregated 1930s Alabama, I decided to reread it. I was surprised to find that the dramatic trial in which principled oddball lawyer Atticus Finch provides the convincing defence of a black man accused of rape, which only a prejudiced white jury could reject, forms a relatively small section of the novel.
I now see the book as a C20 female American writer's response to Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, for at its core lie the attempts of feisty tomboy Jean Louise, nicknamed Scout, to understand the contrary adult world in which people speak one way and act another and the confusing social divisions in the inward-looking, gossip-ridden, tightknit factions of the backwater community of Maybury. Some of the escapades of Scout and her brother Jem are entertaining, I was fascinated by the Southern turn of speech and vivid portrayal of small-town life in another age.
And yet, like some other recent reviewers, I was not impressed to the degree I had expected and hoped. The whole business of the childrens' obsession with catching sight of their reclusive neighbour Boo Radley becomes wearisome, although I admit that it proves relevant to the denouement – a tale which often seems clunkily plotted and rambling manages to pull the threads together for a satisfactory conclusion.
Although dealing with an adult subject, everything is seen from the perspective of a child between the ages of six and eight. Thus Scout frequently misconstrues the situation, which may be amusing for a more mature reader who is "in the know" although this can get tedious after a while. The problem for me is that, despite her fear of hot steam ghosts and penchant for sugar sandwiches, Scout often seems to have too precocious a grasp of vocabulary and thoughts too sophisticated for her age, which is a common problem with a first person narrative, although admittedly in this case there is the excuse that she is writing years after the event, able to put an adult construction on matters and to employ dramatic licence to recreate detailed conversations word for word.
So it is that I found the story funny and moving, yet at the same long-winded, corny and sentimental at some points and think that for the greatest impact it needs to be read for the first time by teenagers untroubled by the pros and cons of good creative writing.