Scottsboro – Ellen Feldman

…And so here comes (finally I hear you all cry – I did actually finish this book quite some time a go) the first of my reviews, get ready for a mad rush of them over the weekend, of the short listed books that are up for the Orange Prize revealed next Wednesday. I couldn’t decide quite which one to start with (I will admit it wasn’t going to be Home as I had read Gilead too recently) so shamelessly I went for the one with the cover that most appealed and after a toss up between Burnt Shadows and Scottsboro I chose the latter.

Scottsboro is a novel based on the true story of a trail in the town of the same name in Alabama in 1931. A trial which “the principles that, in the United States, criminal defendants are entitled to effective assistance of counsel and that people may not be de facto excluded from juries because of their race.” Two white girls had accused nine young black men of raping them on a freight train back in times when if you were black sometimes you didn’t even need a trial you could just be hung by the locals and it was overlooked by the law and judicial system. However these cases made it to the courts even though “the juries were entirely white, their attorneys had little experience in criminal law, and the judge gave them no time at all to prepare their cases”. I am quite ashamed to admit that I had never heard of what is such an incredibly important case in history.

The fictional story is told through two voices. The first of which is Ruby Bates, one of the girls who accused the boys of rape and then proceeded to change her mind several times. Her story tells of the desperate poverty and life that she led as a penniless prostitute and how the infamy of the case changed her fortunes and her life and yet she knew what she was doing was wrong. Through her eyes we get the tale of a good girl gone bad due to circumstance and how when things get much to big for her she tries to do right but can she change a media whirlwind completely beyond her control. The second voice is that of one of the media, journalist Alice Whittier. However unlike the other journalists who are interested in sensationalizing the whole case, Alice is looking at it from the perspective of ‘what if these young men are innocent’ this doesn’t by any means make her a ‘heroine of the piece’ though. In fact though Alice is a wonderful factual voice for the whole plot and all the key facts and twists in the case, I never felt like I really got to know her which would be my one main criticism of the book overall.

Some people have said the book reads as non fiction, which I would partially agree with, bar the incredibly well created, depicted and carried off character of Ruby Bates who I didn’t like but wanted to follow and read more of. I thought that the other girl Victoria, who also accused the boys of rape, was also incredibly well crafted and incredibly dislikable. I can see how a book couldn’t be carried by just these two though as you do need the facts and the twists. It’s an amazing case (I have included a picture of the boys below as I found it made it even more real) which undoubtedly people should know much, much more about and I think in a market where a book like Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ has done so well a great book like this with find a huge amount of people who will really enjoy the book like I did.

So first Orange Short Lister in and this is my favourite so far! I have read one and a half more since I put Scottsboro down I just needed to give myself a break from the emotional rollercoaster of frustration, anger and sadness that you get with a novel like this (you can’t ask much more from a book than that can you) before I could actually write about it. Would it stay my favourite… you will have to wait and see!


Filed under Books of 2009, Ellen Feldman, Orange Prize, Picador Books, Review

9 responses to “Scottsboro – Ellen Feldman

  1. Steph

    Great review! I have to admit, I probably WOULDN’T have been interested in this one based on the cover, but having read your review, I’ve done a complete 180 and am going to see if my library has a copy. I hope you enjoy the rest of your Orange Prize reads.

  2. C. B. James

    It does sound very interesting. I remember the Central Park jogger case of a few years ago. Several young black men were accused of raping a woman who’d been jogging in Central Park. Just about everyone was sure they were guilty, but for one of the boy’s mothers who never stopped fighting to prove her son was innocent. Many people I know said not very nice things about her. Turned out, years later, years after the young men were convicted and sent to prison, that DNA evidence proved her right.

    Scottsboro was in the back of my mind at that time.

  3. Sandy Nawrot

    I read another review of this book recenlty (was it Jackie?)Because I’m lazy and don’t want to track it down, I will say that I think the comment was that the story was confusing, because it read like it was a true story. That being said, it sounds like a compelling premise, and I think I would enjoy it. Great review!

  4. Candy Schultz

    Well I am American and I’m ashamed to say I have never heard of this case. You have made me want to know more.

  5. Savidge Reads

    Steph – Thank you very much thats really kind of you. This book I think could be a dark horse in the race.

    CB – Thanks for your thoughts I think this is a case that everyone should be made aware of, and though minorities still get mistreated in some circumstances a book like this bizarrely gives you hope.

    Sandy – Jackie has read it but I wasnt meaning her. I think she makes a valid point it can be confusing. A lot of other bloggers and reviewers have slated it though and I dont feel thats fair.

    Candy – I would advise you strongly to get a copy of this.

  6. Candy Schultz

    Yes sir.

  7. Savidge Reads

    Hahaha! Not that severely!

  8. Candy Schultz

    I take orders quite well.

  9. farmlanebooks

    I see you’re talking about me!!

    I don’t think that the story was confusing – it was very simple to follow. The point I made was that it read like a non-fiction book, but it was actually fiction, so it was hard to tell which bits were true and which bits weren’t.

    I thought this book was OK, but there was nothing that amazing about it. Nothing really bad, so I wouldn’t tell you to avoid it.

    Your favourite so far!!! LOL!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s