2015 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist

WPFF_GOLD_2015_googleplusThe 2015 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist is out and there are some wonderful books on the list this year.

I’m particularly interested in Laline Paull’s The Bees as I have mentioned in earlier posts.  What are your thoughts on this year’s shortlist?

 

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Outline

A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.  Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry. The more they talk the more elliptical their listener becomes, as she shapes and directs their accounts until certain themes begin to emerge: the experience of loss, the nature of family life, the difficulty of intimacy and the mystery of creativity itself. (GoodReads)

The Bees by Laline Paull

The Bees

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden… (GoodReads)

A God In Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

A God in Every Stone

July 1914. Young Englishwoman Vivian Rose Spencer is running up a mountainside in an ancient land, surrounded by figs and cypresses. Soon she will discover the Temple of Zeus, the call of adventure, and the ecstasy of love. Thousands of miles away a twenty-year old Pathan, Qayyum Gul, is learning about brotherhood and loyalty in the British Indian army.  July, 1915. Qayyum Gul is returning home after losing an eye at Ypres, his allegiances in tatters. Viv is following the mysterious trail of her beloved. They meet on a train to Peshawar, unaware that a connection is about to be forged between their lives – one that will reveal itself fifteen years later, on the Street of Storytellers, when a brutal fight for freedom, an ancient artefact and a mysterious green-eyed woman will bring them together again. (GoodReads)

How To Be Both by Ali Smith

How to be both

How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance. (GoodReads)

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread

‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’  This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.  And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.  From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we see played out the hopes and fears, the rivalries and tensions of families everywhere – the essential nature of family life. (GoodReads)

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa — a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants — life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.  With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life — or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be. (GoodReads)

 

Visit the Bailey’s Women’s Prize website for more info.

 

 

The TBR Chronicles – March

tbr marchThe Book of Disquiet

I recently read An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine and from it I added two books to my TBR list.  The first one is The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.  I’ve always wanted to read something by Pessoa because he is such a literary legend but I’ll admit I felt a bit apprehensive as to where to start.  After readind a few quotes from this book however, I’ve decided to start with The Book of Disquiet. (GoodReads)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The second book I added is The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.  I was intrigued by this book because of the effect it has on a character in Alameddine’s book and Hamid has also been shortlisted for many top lit prizes so I’m fairly sure it’ll be a very good book.  (GoodReads)

The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)

Terry Pratchett passed away recently and I decided to do a post about his Discworld series and in so doing decided, I, too, needed to embark on the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.  The series is made up of around 40 books so there’ll be no shortage of reading material once I get going.  (GoodReads)

The Buried Giant

A new and highly anticipated novel came out this month and I had to add it to my TBR list.  The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is quite a big deal at the moment since it is the author’s latest offering in a decade.  It is said to be a little of a departure from his previous novels since it is set in Arthurian Britain but that just makes me even more interested.  (GoodReads)

The Miniaturist

The last addition to the TBR this month is The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton which has caught my eye because firstly lots of people are talking about this book and secondly it won the Specsavers National Book Award so I reckon it’s got to be good!  (GoodReads)

 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Feel free to share with us any of your March book finds.

 

 

2015 Pen/Faulkner Award Shortlist

The Pen/Faulkner shortlist for 2015 was released on the 10th of this month.  The shortlist is made up of books quite distinct from one another.  You can read more about the shortlisted authors and their novels here. One book that has definitely been making waves with readers is Mandel’s Station Eleven but you never know, we may be surprised by the winner.

Here is the shortlist with book blurbs from GoodReads:

 

Song of the ShankSong of the Shank by Jeffery Renard Allen

At the heart of this remarkable novel is Thomas Greene Wiggins, a nineteenth-century slave and improbable musical genius who performed under the name Blind Tom.  Song of the Shank opens in 1866 as Tom and his guardian, Eliza Bethune, struggle to adjust to their fashionable apartment in the city in the aftermath of riots that had driven them away a few years before. But soon a stranger arrives from the mysterious island of Edgemere—inhabited solely by African settlers and black refugees from the war and riots—who intends to reunite Tom with his now-liberated mother.  As the novel ranges from Tom’s boyhood to the heights of his performing career, the inscrutable savant is buffeted by opportunistic teachers and crooked managers, crackpot healers and militant prophets. In his symphonic novel, Jeffery Renard Allen blends history and fantastical invention to bring to life a radical cipher, a man who profoundly changes all who encounter him. (GoodReads)

 

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer ClementPrayers for the Stolen

Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Here in the shadow of the drug war, bodies turn up on the outskirts of the village to be taken back to the earth by scorpions and snakes. School is held sporadically, when a volunteer can be coerced away from the big city for a semester. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they “make them ugly” – cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight.  While her mother waits in vain for her husband’s return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi’s future takes a dark turn. Despite the odds against her, this spirited heroine’s resilience and resolve bring hope to otherwise heartbreaking conditions. (GoodReads)

 

Preparation for the Next LifePreparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish

Zou Lei, orphan of the desert, migrates to work in America and finds herself slaving in New York’s kitchens. She falls in love with a young man whose heart has been broken in another desert. A new life may be possible if together they can survive homelessness, lockup, and the young man’s nightmares, which may be more prophecy than madness. (GoodReads)

 

Station Eleven by Emily St John MandelStation Eleven

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.  Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave. (GoodReads)

 

Dept. of SpeculationDept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophesa colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art. (GoodReads)

 

You can read the official press release here.  Winners will be announced on 7 April 2015.

2014 NBCC Fiction Prize Winner – Marilynne Robinson

The 2014 NBCC Fiction Prize went to Marilynne Robinson for her novel LilaLila is the third installment of Robinson’s acclaimed Gilead series.  The first novel in the series, Gilead, also won the NBCC prize along with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  This series of novels is on my personal TBR list as I have heard many good things about Robinson’s writing and her novels.  Lila (Gilead, #3)

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church—the only available shelter from the rain—and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security.  Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. But despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life is laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to harmonize the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband that paradoxically judges those she loves.

There were many great books shortlisted for the prize so I am certain this will be a wonderful read.  Judges of the NBCC prize this year described the winner:

“No one writes so simply yet profoundly of our yearnings and struggles, our troubling doubts and grateful affirmations of the good when we encounter it at last.”

You can read more in the NBCC press release.  I’d love to hear what you thought of any of the Gilead books.

2014 Etisalat Literature Prize Winner – Songeziwe Mahlangu

I’m very happy to share with you that Songeziwe Mahlangu won the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature for his novel Penumbra.  Mahlangu was my pick for winner of the prize not only because he is a fellow South African but more importantly because his book sounds so good.Penumbra

Have a quick look at the blurb of Penumbra from GoodReads:

Maybe Mfundo shot me that night. This is all a path to my place of rest. I am being shown my life and the things that happened to me. There was also the night I broke the window in my room. I felt trapped. I tried opening the door, but couldn’t. I was woken by Tongai mumbling that I would not be able to go anywhere. Next, I was pushing on the window. Tongai later told me that I suffer from night terrors. Perhaps I threw Tongai out of the window that night. And the guilt made me shut the truth away. Tongai is dead. I killed him a long time ago. Such a decent guy, who never wanted to harm anyone; I murdered him. It is this sin that is eating me up.  Mangaliso Zolo lives in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, near the university. He has an office job at a large corporate, but he does little every day bar shuffle papers and surf the ’net. Penumbra charts Manga’s daily struggles with the twin pull, from friends and acquaintances, of reckless living or charismatic Christianity. A very different Cape Town comes to life – far removed from both the gloss of tourism brochures or the familiar poverty of the Flats – and a certain dissolute South African reality is dissected with haunting precision.

I cannot wait to read it although I have struggled to find it in a bookstore close to me.  Now that he’s won the prize I’m sure it’ll be more easily available.  If you’ve read the novel already I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Review: Before I wake by CL Taylor

Before I Wake by CL Taylor was published in 2014 and is a suspense/thriller novel.  There definitely was  suspense and I read it quickly to find out what the big secret was.  This novel opens with Susan’s daughter, Charlotte, in a coma after being hit by a bus.  Everyone believes it was an accident but the bus driver describes how Charlotte made eye contact with him just before she stepped out in front of him.  Susan also believes there is more to it and when she findsBefore I Wake Charlotte’s diary she finds out that Charlotte was keeping a secret so big it was weighing heavily on her…heavily enough for her to step in front of a bus.

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

This secret is killing me.  It’s only one line from her fifteen-year-old daughter’s diary, but Susan knows it means everything. Charlotte is smart, popular, and beautiful. She is also in a coma following what looks like a desperate suicide attempt. What’s more, Susan has no idea what compelled her daughter to step out in front of a city bus.  Did she really know her daughter at all? In her hunt for the truth, Susan begins to mistrust everyone close to Charlotte, and she’s forced to look further, into the depths of her own past. The secrets hidden there may destroy them both.

The rest of the novel alternates between Susan’s diary entries from the past about her ordeals with a particular man who has haunted her life for years since and the real time descriptions of her efforts to find out from who ever she can what her daughter had been hiding.  It was a well paced novel with good characters and a good amount of intrigue.  I felt there was an underlying theme of mental illness of different kinds affecting people for different reasons which I found added greatly to the novel and suspense.

All in all it was a good quick read which I enjoyed.

 

lilolia black 3 good

 

Terry Pratchett & the Discworld Series

150312152121-terry-pratchett-exlarge-169Yesterday we received the sad news of Terry Pratchett’s passing.  Pratchett is a beloved fantasy writer best known for his Discworld series.  He has been honoured with an OBE and many literary awards for his work.  His books have sold upward of 85 million copies and have been translated into 37 languages.  His popularity is rivalled only by that of J K Rowling in the fantasy world.  Pratchett has listed JRR Tolkein, Robert E Howard, H P Lovecraft, and William Shakespeare as inspiration as well as mythology, folklore, and fairytales.pratchett the end tweet

The Discworld series is 40 books strong with the very first one, The Colour of Magic, published in 1983.  Since then Pratchett has written about two Discworld books per year.  The 41st book was due out later this year.  Fans of Pratchett may be wondering if this is the end of the Discworld series and while it seems that may be true I have read in a New Statesman article from 2012 that Pratchett was happy to have his only daughter, Rihanna Pratchett, carry on the series.

“the Discworld is safe in my daughter’s hands”

Whether fans will be happy about this or not, I have no idea.  However, the end of the Discworld series remains to be seen.  Many, including myself, have not yet read the series.  Pratchett is known to have had a good sense of humour and his fantasy series refelcts this.  It is a comical and satirical series often including parallels with current cultural, political, and scientific issues.

I have included the full book list of the Discworld series to guide you on your Discworld journey should you wish to embark upon it.  Many of the Discworld books are also part of sub series which I have included in brackets after the publication date.

The Discworld Series:

1          The Colour of Magic [1983]    (Rincewind #1)

2          The Light Fantastic [1986]    (Rincewind #2)

3          Equal Rites [1987]    (Witches #1)

From BuzzFeed’s 26 Discworld Quotes About Life, The Universe, And Everything

4          Mort [1987]    (Death #1)

5          Sourcery [1988]    (Rincewind #3)

6          Wyrd Sisters [1988]    (Witches #2)

7          Pyramids [1989]

8          Guards! Guards! [1989]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #1)

9          Eric [1990]    (Rincewind #4)

10        Moving Pictures [1990]

11        Reaper Man [1991]    (Death #2)

12        Witches Abroad [1991]    (Witches #3)

13        Small Gods [1992]

14        Lords and Ladies [1992]    (Witches #4)

15        Men at Arms [1993]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #2)

16        Soul Music [1994]    (Death #3)

17        Interesting Times [1994]    (Rincewind #5)

18        Maskerade [1995]    (Witches #5)

19        Feet of Clay [1996]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #3)

20        Hogfather [1996]    (Death #4)

From BuzzFeed’s 26 Discworld Quotes About Life, The Universe, And Everything

21        Jingo [1997]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #4)

22        The Last Continent [1998]    (Rincewind #6)

23        Carpe Jugulum [1998]    (Witches #6)

24        The Fifth Elephant [1999]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #5)

25        The Truth [2000]

26        Thief of Time [2001]    (Death #5)

27        The Last Hero [2001]    (Rincewind #7)

28        The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents [2001]

29        Night Watch [2002]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #6)

30        The Wee Free Men [2003]    (Tiffany Aching #1)

31        Monstrous Regiment [2003]

32        A Hat Full of Sky [2004]    (Tiffany Aching #2)

33        Going Postal [2004]

34        Thud! [2005]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #7)

35        Wintersmith [2006]    (Tiffany Aching #3)

36        Making Money [2007]

37        Unseen Academicals [2009]    (Rincewind #8)

38        I Shall Wear Midnight [2010]    (Tiffany Aching #4)

39        Snuff [2011]    (Ankh-Morpork City Watch #8)

40        Raising Steam [2013]

41        The Shepard’s Crown [2015?]    (Tiffany Aching #5)

Review: The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis, published in 1942, was a very enjoyable read that I’ve thought a lot about since I finished it at the end of February.

GoodReads Blurb:The Screwtape Letters

A masterpiece of satire, this classic has entertained and enlightened readers the world over with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, a senior tempter in the service of “Our Father Below.” At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C. S. Lewis gives us the correspondence of the worldly-wise old devil to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man. The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging and humorous account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written.

As the title suggests, the story is told through a series of letters written from Screwtape, a senior demon in the underworld, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  We only get to read the letters Screwtape sends to Wormwood and not his nephew’s replies but in this case I thought monologic was a great choice because the extremes in Screwtape’s mood in his responses to Wormwood’s letters can be quite funny which I think might have been lost if you actually had to read Wormwood in all his inefficiency and lack of experience.  Wormwood has been sent to tempt a man known only as ‘the patient’ to the dark side.  And really the book is a very clever way of showing all the ways that we can fail in walking a path that leads to Heaven.  It is essentially about being a christian and all the small ways we may find ourselves tempted from the right path.  It is not, however, full of dogma or anything like that.  It is simple and discreet in its message and I found it made some very insightful points. Lewis very cleverly chose to write this book from the perspective of the other side which I found refreshing although I have read that he abhorred writing this work which was originally published as a series of columns in a weekly Anglican periodical.  What really came across to me as an important point that Lewis regularly conveyed is that the demons can never quite win because they simply cannot understand God’s unconditional love for these humans and therefore are constantly trying to figure out what he is up to or stands to gain.  After a few weeks of stewing that’s what I’m taking away from this book – that unconditional love is the greatest good.  There was a lot of humour in this book, at least for me.  I laughed out loud a number of times because really Screwtape is quite a character.  It goes without saying that Lewis’ writing is impeccable and, if you are interested in how English has and continues to evolve as I am, then it is also nice to see the little differences in style and diction.  Overall I really enjoyed it.  I think if the blurb speaks to you give it a go.  It’s really quite short and you’ll know a few pages in if it’s for you.

If you’ve read this book what did you think?  I’d love to hear some opinions.

4 stars

The TBR Chronicles – February 2015

TBR chronicles pic w text

 

The HakawatiThe Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine has been on my TBR for a while but I had forgotten about it.  It wasn’t until the NBCC Fiction Finalists were announced and Alameddine’s novel An Unnecessary Woman drew my attention that I remembered he had written another book that I’d intended on reading.  I was quite taken by An Unnecessary Woman so without doubt the Hakawati will be read fairly soon.  Euphoria

I added two more novels from the NBCC finalists.  The first being Euphoria by Lily King.  I was drawn to it initially because of its beautiful cover but the blurb was also captivating.  It was inspired by the life of “revolutionary” anthropologist Margaret Mead whom I have never heard of, however, the story is set in the 1930s and tells of a passionate yet destructive love triangle involving three anthropologists.  Ooh la la!

On Such a Full SeaThe second is On Such A Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee.  This novel is set in a future America after much decline.  I like these kinds of books very much so I’m naturally drawn to it but I’m even more inclined to read this one because it’s about a woman who leaves her labour settlement in search of her husband who has mysteriously disappeared and all that she encounters on her dangerous journey.  Sounds like it’ll be a great read.

The Western Canon by Harold Bloom is another new addition to my TBR.  I was inspired to read this as I came across a The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Agesfantastic reading list taken from the appendices of Bloom’s book which includes the most important works in the western canon from the days of Euripides and Plato to the 21st century.  Unfortunately the book itself doesn’t deal with all the works he lists in the appendices only a few he deemed especially important but I’m intrigued to read it since people seem so vehemently divided on Bloom himself.

BeowulfI added one book to my TBR while preparing a FBF on JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings.  It is Beowulf translated by J RR Tolkein.  I have wanted to read Beowulf for myself ever since I saw the film.  I figured there can only be so much you can fit into a film so I’d like to read the epic in its entirety.  When I found out JRR Tolkein had done a translation I was sold.  The Bees

My final addition is The Bees by Laline Paull.  This one I came across on fellow blogger FictionFan’s TBR Thursday post and it sounded so different from anything I’ve come across that I couldn’t help myself.  It is described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games which sounded completely irresistable to me especially since I read The Handmaid’s Tale recently and really enjoyed it.

I’d love to hear what you think of any of these books that you may have read.  Maybe you could save me a bit of time or on the contrary push one of them up to the top of the pile!

 

FBF: Telegraph’s 100 Novels – To Kill A Mockingbird

Telegraph’s 100 Novels Everyone Should Read

#2 To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960 and despite Lee’s expectations it was an immediate success winning the Pulitzer Prize and fans the world over.  It has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies.  Mockingbird has been prescribed reading for high schools around the world for generations despite campaigns to have it removed from the classroom and attempts to ban the book.To Kill a Mockingbird

The blurb on the book cover describes it as:

“The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it. […] Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.”

Although Lee has said Mockingbird is not autobiographical (but rather an example of how an author “should write about what he knows and write truthfully” wiki) it has many parallels with her life.  Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was an attorney not unlike Atticus Finch who in 1919 defended two black men accused of murder.  The men were apparently convicted, hanged, and mutilated and Lee’s father never tried a criminal case again.  Mr. Lee also worked as the editor and publisher of the Monroeville newspaper.  Like fictional Jem, Lee had a four year older brother named Edwin.  Scout’s childhood friend Dill was based on Lee’s famous childhood friend Truman Capote who also lived next door to her in the Summers when his mother visited New York.  The inspiration for the Radleys came from a family whose house down the street from the Lee’s was always boarded up and whose son got into some legal trouble and was subsequently kept at home for 24 years out of shame.  The inspiration for Tom Robinson and his accusal of raping a young white woman is less clear but there was an incident which took place close to Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama where a black man, Walter Lett, was accused of raping a white woman.  The story and trial were covered by Lee’s father’s newspaper and Lett was said to have been convicted and sentenced to death.  However, there were later letters that claimed Lett had been falsely accused and his sentence was changed to life in prison.

Recently we heard that Harper Lee would have a second novel published.  Great news since readers have wondered why Lee never published anything more after Mockingbird.  Interestingly Lee has responded to this by saying:

 “She found the publicity surrounding “To Kill a Mockingbird” overwhelming and that she had said all she had to say in that single work.”

The new novel, Go Set A Watchmen, was actually written before Mockingbird but the manuscript was thought lost.  Alexandra Alter wrote a bit about the new novel in her NYT article:

On Tuesday, Ms. Lee’s publisher announced its plans to release that novel, recently rediscovered, which Ms. Lee completed in the mid-1950s, before she wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The 304-page book, “Go Set a Watchman,” takes place 20 years later in the same fictional town, Maycomb, Ala., and unfolds as Jean Louise Finch, or Scout, the feisty child heroine of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” returns to visit her father. The novel, which is scheduled for release this July, tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter.

Readers and literary folk are thrilled to soon have another novel by Harper Lee to sink their teeth into and I too am interested to see how this new novel will compare.  I read To Kill A Mockingbird as my setwork novel at school in Gr. 9 and remember it being one of the novels I most enjoyed at school.  The details of what I enjoyed exactly are a bit fuzzy but whenever I think of Mockingbird a particular scene, that I obviously found quite vivid, of a rabid dog coming down the street always comes to mind.

There aren’t all that many reviews of Mockingbird compared with other classics and I have read on my travels through the internet that there has been little analysis of it as well.  I’m not sure why that is but I think when you read the novel it becomes very clear why it is considered a classic and little needs to said about the depth and scope of the novel’s themes for you to appreciate them.  I completely agree that the novel deals largely with the important theme of what’s right and wrong when the Guardian’s review noted:

To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on that gut instinct of right and wrong, and distinguishes it from just following the law. Even the titular quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” is in itself an allegory for this message.

I definitely recommend this book to those who haven’t yet read it.

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