Posts Tagged ‘political novels’

Coming out of hiding

Sunday, 17 October 2010

I should apologise for pretty much disappearing for over a month, but then you’ve probably got used to my doing so when I amn’t specifically challenging myself not to do so. Must do better. Again. Anyway, I just finished this book tonight, and thought I’d get straight to discussing it. I’ve even pre-drafted my post… (DH and I are temporarily sharing one computer at the moment, so I started writing it out by hand. I should warn you it got long.)

To Kill a Mockingbird

Image via Wikipedia

49. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’m not sure I’ve read  To Kill a Mockingbird since doing so as a teenager, despite always being quite clear it’d be worthwhile, as this is a great book – deservedly a modern classic. I’m pretty sure it’s one we did in school, although I’d probably read it myself prior to that. I’m not sure did I see the film before or after first reading the book, but it was around the same time. Since this is a well known classic, I’ll be less wary about spoilers than I usually am, but won’t spoil things for the sake of it.

I remembered that it was about a court case, where the outcome was an unfair foregone conclusion, and ‘victory’ for truth and real justice was measured morally by the fact that the jury didn’t convict the Black defendant in under five minutes, but actually took several hours to do so, regardless of the fact that the evidence against him was tenuous (and circumstantial) at best, and obviously outright lies at worst.

I hadn’t remembered that the actual court scenes all take place in just one day, (and that the case and the individuals involved aren’t mentioned until a third of the way into the book, although it decidedly impacts all the rest of the story) while the book covers nearly three years in the lives of Scout, our young narrator, her older brother Jem, their father Atticus Finch (defence lawyer in the case above) and the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama between summer 1933 and spring 1936. Also, while Boo Radley, their reclusive neighbour, has a name which has entered popular culture, I hadn’t recalled how well the disparate storylines are tied together.

I suppose what I’m coming to on this reread of the book is the idea that it’s about justice in practice  and concept, and the importance of who is allowed to decide and enforce that. While the professional lawmakers and enforcers that we get to meet and know in this book are all honourable men whose intention is to do right by all (thinking here of Atticus, Judge Taylor and the county sheriff, Heck Tate) we are certainly shown some of their own prejudices and faults, as well as the severe problems of the judicial system all of them are sworn and see it as a core principle to uphold, particularly in the potential for mob rule taking over even the jury system.

In the end, a truer justice is portrayed by good men choosing to keep certain things out of the public judicial system, and yet it’s clear this can only work because this is a group of right-thinking people making a difficult choice. Previous instances of individuals, and especially groups, taking things into their own hands have had to be suffered or fended off by some of the most potentially vulnerable characters in the book, with varying degrees of success.

Harper Lee’s brilliance in using a child narrator for this story is shown in how the hypocrisy and prejudice of the adult society can be ignored, sidestepped, shown up or wilfully misunderstood by Scout and/or her contemporaries (particularly  Jem and their friend Dill, who as an outsider to the town (he comes to stay with his aunt each summer) can sometimes see through the attitudes even Scout has imbibed from the ether.

At the same time, the child’s propensity to see things in black and white is not ignored, and we see Scout’s growing understanding and appreciation for the subtleties of adult interaction, and her growing empathy for vulnerable people.

Ultimately, I suppose this book is the story of Scout’s growing comprehension of the social inequities that surround her, in a world that’s about to change in ways she can’t possibly guess. (The book was published in 1960, so Lee would have known her characters would go through World War II and the burgeoning African-American Civil Rights movement, and perhaps even the beginnings of Second-Wave Feminism.)

Stories overlapping and intertwining

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

I’ve just started reading Trinity: a novel of Ireland by Leon Uris, as I finished The Professor and the Madman this morning, and this was one my DH expressed an interest in my opinion of. I’ve seen novels by Uris before, but not read any of them. At the moment this is sharing the opening set-piece of Dubliners: the wake of an old man, respected in the community (if not by all), as viewed by a young boy connected to his family. I haven’t got far enough in it to say more than that as yet. Already, though, it’s got my DH and I discussing Irish history again, which is never a bad thing.

Still, if I’m to get to even having read a quarter of last year’s total books (320), I do need to get a move on, as I’m at precisely a fifth (64) today. Not that anyone besides me does or should care about that…

37. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

I believe I was given one copy of this and offered two or three more. Not sure if this says more about me or the book (I was being offered once read copies, where the purchaser thought it unlikely they’d reread the book). It is perhaps more of a book of children’s fairy tales than might be expected from Hermione’s fascination with it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but for those who enjoyed the Harry Potter series in its totality it’s certainly worth reading once, and for more than the sake of completeness.

38. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon

After 2008’s reading of the original American version, this was me going back through the series as I knew it originally. As I pointed out then, they are only fractionally different. I still love the story and the writing in this series, but on this reread I was getting disturbed by the huge amount of violence (sexual and non) within the books, so it may be awhile till I go back to them, presuming I do. I haven’t even got hold of or read An Echo in the Bone (the newest book, which came out this September just gone) because of this.

39. What Diantha Did by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I listened to this back to back with Mr Hogarth’s Will, as described two days ago, and since they have some overlapping themes I thought I was going to get them thoroughly mixed up, but I think I have them more distinct now than I did at the time!

Unlike Mr Hogarth’s nieces, who are educated to provide for themselves, and then turfed out to do so, Diantha has to do a lot of persuading of her family that she be allowed to try so to do (so far so like Agnes Grey), especially since she has a young man desperate to marry and look after her (so not like any book I’ve come across before the current generation). This is a clever, practical, principled young woman with her own plan of action, to benefit many women young and old, who will not be deterred from her path, especially by those she loves.

40. Posing for Portrait Photography: a head-to-toe guide by Jeff Smith

One of those random books I read for work, but I like to think it has and will help in my snapping, even though it’s decidedly written for those in or going into professional portrait photography. (I did some ‘proper photography’ courses in school, after learning a lot from my father, but these day I use an automatic digital camera mostly to record my crochet here and on Ravelry, and otherwise to snap pics of friends, family, and touristy stuff.)

Oh, and while I’m discussing improving photography skills, I just came across a really interesting photography blog. It is aimed towards proper photography, but those of us trying to get beyond ‘just snaps’ (again) can learn and be inspired too.

Women’s Lives

Sunday, 20 July 2008

I want to pay tribute to a wonderful woman who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, and who I have just discovered I will not get to meet again, but who will retain a special place in my memory and heart. For privacy I won’t say more than that, but I’ll be thinking of her and the rest of the family.

209. Brain Waves by Shuli Mensh

There are a few parallels with Fortune Seekers, that I read about a month ago, with lawyers to potentially hook up (okay, so that doesn’t happen till the end of either book, but it’s fairly obvious that it will in both cases, so I amn’t giving much away) and memories to make sense of, but they are quite different stories. This one uses the classic scenario of a character losing her memory and having to find herself, with the changes that makes in her, but it has been thought through and researched, and does not deserve the groan that was my first reaction to the event.

210. Emma Brown by Clare Boylan

The first two chapters of this are from an unfinished manuscript by Charlotte Bronte, put aside upon the latter’s marriage, apparently. Boylan has done very well at keeping the same authorial voice going throughout the book, but there is a part of me that thinks Bronte would never have been as explicit over certain issues as Boylan is. On the other hand, Bronte’s original readers might have been better at reading between the lines than most of us are today.

The eponymous heroine of this novel has nearly as many monikers as one of Dorothy Dunnett‘s heroes, but they are generally not of her own choosing, and this story is not quite as complex as one of Dunnett’s sagas, either. Emma Brown is another to have lost her prior memories, leading her on her own quest for identity and home, with an annoying habit of truth-to-her-own-detriment that takes her away from those who wish to help her and into a series of dangerous situations. In the meantime, those who have been trying to help her get in each others’ way. I’m making this sound a farce, and it really isn’t – it’s very well written, and in many ways a satisfying tale – I just amn’t sure Boylan has given herself a plausible task.

Don’t get me wrong; she has written a great book that suits the manuscripts she worked from, but in the notes at the end she explains that it is Bronte’s apparent developing interest in social commentary and the condition of poor young women in London that she is trying to live up to. Perhaps Bronte did want to write a political novel, in what is now the tradition of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens or Anna Sewell, that would draw the attention of those who could bring change, but what is the point in writing such a work now, about a situation that no longer exists?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Oliver Twist etc. and Black Beauty are all classics that are most definitely worth reading nowadays, for their literary merit as well as for the opportunity to learn the wrongs of the past to prevent their repitition today, but they were written for their own time, not for now.

But that’s my only real complaint about Emma Brown, and I’d still say it’s a good read.

211. Extreme Motherhood by Jackie Clune

This one could be said to be social commentary, I suppose, but mostly I reread it because the author is a stand-up comedian who can also write funnily. I’ll have to see has she written any books other than this diary of the year from discovering she was expecting triplets to their first word (maybe) as I expect it’d be worth the read.

212. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Alcott definitely did have social commentary and change in her sights when she wrote. Heather on Craftlit is going straight from this into Good Wives as LW part 2, but I always read them as two separate books, along with their sequels Little Men and Jo’s Boys, so that’s how I’ll be listing them. I’ve read them countless times, of course, but it’s always good to get Heather’s commentary, and sometimes I can appreciate that more when I know the context of what is to come later in the story as well. She got podcast listeners to rerecord several of the chapters instead of using them from Librivox, so that’s another reason to go for the Craftlit version.