If there is one book I am so glad I didn’t read at school, it’s this one. I can just imagine how it would have been analysed to death and how that constant analysis would have robbed the book of its power and made me, if not the whole class, vow to never read it again. Thankfully though I now hate The Wasp Factory, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and Lord of the Flies. But if Go Set A Watchman wasn’t being published later on this month it probably would have languished in my mental pile of books to read for another decade (at least). I don’t know why this would have been the case but Go Kill A Mockingbird had never been a priority for me.
And considering how well known and well-loved it is I knew barely anything about it. I haven’t seen the movie either so I had no idea about anything and came to the story fresh. How glad I was of that because I loved this book and could discover it my way and didn’t have to analyse it line by bloody line.
This is a book about race and racism in 1930s America through the eyes of Scout Finch (the narrator) and her brother Jem. Their father Atticus Finch is defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Tensions are rising and the whole of Maycomb County is affected by what is happening. Through Scout we meet a cast of Deep South characters, some of whom I loved and some of whom I loved to hate, and the different versions of right and wrong. We also meet the different versions of hypocrisy (one teacher talking about how terrible Hitler was couldn’t see that she was exactly the same with her behaviour and attitude towards black people even though Scout could), and different versions of religion (good Christian women couldn’t see how truly horrible they were being to the black members of their community).
I was so absorbed by this book. I knew the ending for Tom (the man accused of rape) wasn’t going to be good because of the trifecta: it’s set in Southern America, in the 1930s, where everyone is racist. Yet I still wanted something to happen to make it all better. Someone to shake them and tell them to look at what they were doing and for me Scout was that person. She could see and she could understand and more importantly she questioned everything. I loved her.
I wasn’t expecting the book to be as funny as it was either: Harper Lee’s humour took me by surprise and I loved it. She wrote about such serious situations with an infusion of humour and I loved it. This makes me really excited about Go Set A Watchman even though no one quite knows what to expect. I am just hoping Harper Lee uses her humour in that too.
What broke my heart while reading it is that this book should be stuck in history, it should be a product of its time and not a product of our time. Yet it’s just as relevant what with the ever increasing racism in America. It seems as if nothing has changed and that’s so depressing.
As an aside, I think this cover is beautiful. The orange is so striking against the pale beige background and the black silhouette of the child on the tyre.