Thursday, 21 April 2011

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 1

My favourite book of all time was published in 1960 and was an instant success. I think it's one of those iconic novels that everyone should read. It's a story of family, heroism, evil, grace, gentleness, coming of age; all those things and more put into one great novel and, if I might say so, one great movie (which happens also to be my favourite movie of all-time too). So what is this great novel?

I'm sure most, if not all, people know the story, but for those that don't, the plot summary on the back of this 2006 edition, which I gratefully received as a Xmas present from my sister-in-law, reads as follows:

"Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but
remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. A lawyer's advice
to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this
enchanting classic - a black man charged with the rape
of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem
Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the
irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the
Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped
in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina
of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history
will tolerate so much..."

The barest of outlines, but it covers so much. The story is the growing up of young Scout Finch, a young girl just starting out on her life, living with her brother Jem, her lawyer father, Atticus and their housekeeper Calpurnia. Of course other people intersect her life experiences; the secretive Radley family, their friend Dill who visits his auntie each summer and others. Atticus, a respected lawyer in town, although considered somewhat boring by his children, is asked by the local black community leaders to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused by a white family, the Ewell's, of raping their daughter, Mayalla. This court case, with all its ramifications for the time period and area where it takes place, the deep South, forms a backdrop for all of the events that ultimately take place.

Scout and Jem find out much about their father, a gentle hero, in so many eyes. They discover much about the Radley's and also about the poor white and black people from the surrounding area. It's a fascinating, far-reaching story, sometimes so simple as Scout inviting Walter Cunningham Jr to their house for lunch and the ultimate ramifications of that action on future events; to the ultimate meeting with Mr Arthur 'Boo' Radley after a Thanksgiving school event. So many small incidents dovetailed together to make a larger more profound story.

I can't say enough about this book. I've read many times and come away each time, amazed by the story, by the courageousness of Atticus, by the lovely people and the awful people that make up the community. I think as I grow older, I feel and see different things; but it is a great story every single time. I wonder if the world has moved on and learned from this novel and the others like it that express so many profound lessons that should be learned.

As I close, I would like to mention the excellent movie that was created from this story. 

Released in 1962, two years after the book came out, it starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, in what I feel is his best role. He portrays Atticus with grace and class and is the quiet hero of the movie.

Mary Badham as Scout was wonderful. She did very little else and this was her first movie, but she was so perfect in the role. I loved her. Phillip Alford, as Jem, was also in his first movie, but, like Mary, was perfect as Jem. There were so many great small roles that were wonderfully acted; Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, Estelle Evans as Calpurnia, Rosemary Murphy as Maudie Atkkinson and Robert Duvall, in one of his earliest roles, portraying Boo Radley so excellently.

The movie was so respectful of the tone and ideas in the book. It was so delicately portrayed; the court case was tense and emotional, the small events wonderfully pictured and the feelings of the South excellently dealt with.

This was as fantastic a movie as the book was a great novel. You need to read the book! You need to watch this film! Classics both and deserving of every award they received!

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