Do you remember how it feels when you are about to read a book that is heralded as one of the greatest classics of the century and felt an unusual sense of trepidations in picking up the book? Well I remembered. To Kill a mockingbird had sat so long on my shelf that I am not surprised to find generations of cockroaches’ eggs have hatched and died at the same spot next to the book. The book also sat for a year in my Reading Next side bar. Pathetic.
But why the fear?
At first, I thought perhaps there would be something gruesome about killing a mockingbird; but the main reason of all is that I picked this up 17 years ago and I couldn’t get past first chapter.
A new year with a new bravado I have finally finished the book, and to capture the milieu and emotion of the great classic a little longer I continue the next read with A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne, cited by the Daily Telegraph as:
This ambitious account of a sudden coming of age reminded me strongly of To Kill a Mockingbird – and is every bit moving and satisfying.
And Suzanne Berne’s writing has been compared with Anne Tyler and Harper Lee. So we shall see.
This book’s blurb requires no introduction, but for my deteriorating memory I’ll throw in some clues to help me remember this later. The book is set in 1930s and is the coming of age story of Scout Finch (real name Jean Louise), a little girl living in Maycomb, Alabama. She has an older brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus. Dill is their summer friend who came visit them every summer and they spend much of their time wondering about Boo Radley, who hasn’t stepped out of his house for decades. The children are all fascinated with him and thinking up ways to get Boo to come out of his house.
The book introduced many delightful characters (both pleasant and obnoxious) that paints you a picture of communal living in the American South; The strict housekeeper, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie their neighbour who loves gardening, the vigilant Aunt Alexandra etc. While I was lulled into believing that this is a book about a young girl’s innocent childhood, towards the middle it exudes a grim undertone as Atticus, tasked with defending a black man against charges for raping a white girl. Scout, Jem, and Dill disobey orders to stay home on the day of the trial, and has seen and watch the court proceedings. I was delighted there is going to be court drama in the book as little piece of suspense and then more shocks ensued and the book ended with me feeling a sense of gratification and redemption. ah…
I am glad that I read this now and unanimously agree with the others that Atticus will be considered as one of my all time favourite characters. Atticus do not flinch from standing up for what’s right, being courteous to everyone even when they were horrid to him, all those good old fashion values that fast becoming extinct in this contemporary world were alive in this book. And I love it. I love the fact that the book is not focus on the court cases but it is a story about Scout’s childhood. A terrible injustice told through the eyes of a young innocent child’s was deftly handled. The adventurous spirit and wide-eyed innocence of Scout is so infectious and I like Scout a lot. Like Scout I am the sort of girl who grew up playing boys’ games instead of playing dolls, the sort of girl who needs to be given a good telling-off before I could behave like a proper lady.
My favourite passages from the book (except the first one from Scout, the rest are from dear Atticus):
I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers…. I read everything that Atticus happened to be reading when i crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. – Scout (page 20)
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – page 99
“Easy doe it son,” Atticus would say. ‘She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad.’ – page 111
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,’ said Atticus, ‘but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.’ – page 116
Well said Atticus, the last passage, well said. That’s what I said so to myself all the time.
What I like most about the book: the moral values, the right for every man to be treated equally, the love between family and siblings, the lives of American South came alive within the pages. A great classic that deserves to be required reading in every classroom.
What I like least about the book: None about the book but the despicable Ewells family would qualify?
Paperback. Publisher: Mandarin paperback, Length: 309 pages; fiction. Setting: Alabama in 1930’s. Source: Own book. Finished reading at: 15 Jan 2011.
A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne
A crime in the neighbourhood is also told through the eyes of young girl, named Marsha. In the long hot summer of 1972, three events shattered the serenity of 10-year-old Marsha’s life: her father ran away with her mother’s sister Ada; Boyd Allison, a young boy, was molested and murdered; and Watergate made the headlines.
Living in a world no longer safe or familiar, Marsha acquire a habit of noting everything down in her notebooks as evidence, in which she records the doings of the neighbours, especially of shy and suspicious Mr. Green next door. But as Marsha’s confusion and the murder hunt both accelerate, her ‘facts’ has catastrophically impact on her neighbourhood.
While Scout injected her humour and loveliness in her observation, Marsha is the opposite. 38 years on, children have grown up more quickly and their thoughts are darker, they are more capable to incite harms through their innocence and their parents and siblings no longer stand each other in the same house.
‘Well, you know children sometimes hear things that adults don’t’ Detective Small said.
Just like dogs, I told myself. – page 176.
A crime in the neighbourhood plot is far more sinister and a sense of doom or foreboding loom throughout the whole book. For most parts of the book, it contains Marsha’s brooding over the disappearance of her father and the loss that follows. The pain was especially intense for her because Marsha loves her father best.
There is no Atticus Finch in this one, and the father figure of Marsha is a disappointing one that has abandoned the family for another woman.
“I wasn’t prepared for how it would be when he died. I had been living without my father for nearly a quarter of a century and yet when Julie called to tell me that he was dead, suddenly there I was, ten years old all over again, and he had just left me, and the world was a wide place in the dark, and right then I understood as if for the very first time that nothing in my life would ever feel safe.” – page 246 last passage of the book.
The last 50 pages were phenomenal. The sudden turn of caught me by surprise made me turned the pages a little quicker, but be forewarned that you may not get all the answers you need to solve the crime in this book. The author’s clear, plain and intensely evocative prose resurfaced more and more at the end of the book, until I felt like I was reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing, except hers was better.
While To Kill a Mockingbird resonates in me the need to promote the sense of moral goodness and justice; A Crime in the Neighbourhood resonate long after I have put the book down because of the loss of Marsha’s broken family and the same regret of how prejudice would render one guilty as charged, before a fair trial.
What I like most about the book: The horror and the insecurity of the neighbourhood runs parallel with insecurity of Marsha’s childhood and both events were entwined seamlessly and wonderfully narrated. There is big surprise in store and tension is built evenly throughout.
What I like least about the book: The bickering between siblings, the animosity between mother and daughter, all the nastiness that goes on do left a bad taste in my mouth after awhile. This would otherwise be a very good reminiscence piece of work. There is not a single character that I like in this novel. Solving the crime is not exactly the main concern of this book, despite its title.
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin, Length: 248 pages; Setting: Maryland Suburbs. Source: Own book. Finished reading at: 17 Jan 2011.
To Kill a Mockingbird is nothing like A Crime in the neighbourhood, other than it’s told through the eyes of a young girl and a crime is committed in the neighbourhood, the whole tone and style is completely different. Both tried to inject a piece of world current affairs that are happening to their respective eras and that is very nice.
To Kill a Mockingbird: 5/5
Winner of Pulitzer Fiction Prize 1961
A Crime in the Neighbourhood by Suzanne Berne: 4.5/5
Winner of the Orange Prize 1999
Reading both for TBR challenge and To Kill a Mockingbird for Animal Challenge.
Other views on To Kill a Mockingbird:
- Book of Mee
- Mel U (Reading Life)
- Vishy (Vishy’s Blog)
- Rebecca Reads
- Nymeth of Things mean a lot
- Anna (Diary of an eccentric)
- Sheila (Book Journey)
- Chris (Book a rama)
- Sandhya (My handful of the sky)
Did I miss your review? Let me know and I’ll add them here.
About the writers:
Nelle Harper Lee (born April 28, 1926) is an American Author and To Kill a Mockingbird is her only published book, it led to Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom of the United States for her contribution to literature in 2007. Lee has also been the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, but has always declined to make a speech.
Other significant contributions of Lee include assisting her close friend, Truman Capote, in his research for the book In Cold Blood.
Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama, the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. Her mother’s name was Finch. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and was best friends with her schoolmate and neighbor, the youngTruman Capote.
Suzanne Berne (born 1961 Washington, D.C.) is an American novelist known for her foreboding character studies involving unexpected domestic and psychological drama in bucolic suburban settings. She attended Georgetown Day School. She was educated at Wesleyan University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She presently lives with her family near Boston and has taught at both Harvard University and Wellesley College. She is associate English professor at Boston College.
Her first novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood, was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 1997. It was published in Great Britain in 1999 and won the coveted Orange Prize for fiction, from a short list that included Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver that year. The judges called it “a stunning novel of rare quality.” Reviewer David Baddiel described the book as “a beautifully lyrical – and deeply disturbing – rites of passage novel, written, with the hindsight of melancholy adulthood, from the point of view of a young girl growing up at that stage in the early ‘70s when the idyll of American family life started to come apart.”