When Novel Insights and myself set up our ‘Rogue Book Group’ we decided that we would only do books that we owned or ones that we had always wanted to read. I have always wanted to read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and being sneaky I bought us both second hand copies. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a book I knew nothing about other than the fact that it has sold absolutely masses and the author Harper Lee never wrote anything else. Well I think it has made it into my top ten books of all time and that isn’t something that comes easily.
The story of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is based around a family living in the American South. The narrator is Scout a young girl who recounts everything she sees and hears in the town during a turbulent time as Scouts father Atticus is battling the system of a black man Tom Robinson accused of rape. This in set in the present day or when the book was set but back when black people didn’t have any rights and so deals with the subjects of racism and discrimination and is one of the most accomplished books on the subject I have read.
It’s a slow starter and for the first fifty pages I couldn’t decide whether I was going to like it or completely loathe it. I also didn’t know whether the book being narrated by someone that young on such a topic would work, it actually made the book more comical, endearing, tragic, and black and white all at once. By black and white I mean in the sense that children see things in a much simpler way as Harper Lee shows in the reaction that Dill shows to the trail and this spells everything out for you as a reader and makes you really think about the whole situation and the society at the time. She also discusses women’s role and degrees of repression at the time.
The plot itself is superb as the actual trail doesn’t really start until the second part you have the plot of what caused the trial and subsequently what happens after. Behind all of this there is also the mystery of Scout’s neighbour ‘Boo Radley’ who never appears outside of the house apart from at night and who has many ‘neighbourhood gossip/rumours’. One of the themes of the books is also undoubtedly childhood and growing up seen through Scout’s eyes and also through the observations of her brother Jem (and their adventures) as he heads towards manhood and their relationship changes. Family is a big theme in the novel especially the relationship between the children and their father which is beautifully written. Atticus Finch is the father I never had but wish I did.
I have completely fallen in love with this book, all its characters no matter how evil or small and as Novel Insights and myself discussed yesterday (I again finished the book the morning of Rogue Book Group) it’s a complete literary gem. I laughed, though didn’t cry but was moved, believed completely in the characters and felt that I came away from the novel having had a true reading experience and more. It had that certain something. If you haven’t read it, which is unlikely, then you must read it soon. If you have read it why not pick it up again. I will be within the next 12 months I don’t doubt.
I wonder why Harper Lee never wrote anything else?
I absolutely adore Dawn French she is one of the nation’s greatest comediennes and actors and also one of the nations treasures (a lot like Julie Walters whose autobiography I nearly picked up instead of this one but am holding off for now) and after an amazing 20 years in the limelight she has written her autobiography. This however is not quite an autobiography as she points out it is in fact a book of her memoirs written to people in her life throughout her life and I simply loved the whole collection.
A huge part of the book is written to her father who committed suicide not long before she got a place at The School of Speech and Trauma as she calls it ‘Dear Dad, so you’re still dead’. These letters though sad are a delight and whilst very funny in places also show a very raw side of Dawn French that you don’t tend to see behind the humorous woman she shows in her interviews. Her letters to her father deal with times in her life when he was there and times in her life when she wished that he could have been there. I learnt so much about her childhood through these letters I had no idea that as a daughter of someone in the RAF she spent a lot of her time travelling the country and other parts of the world never really settling down, something she is now incredibly keen to do. An episode involving the queen mother is actually one of the funniest parts of the book.
She covers her teenage years and those turbulent teenage times through letters to her daughter and younger relatives. She is completely happy to divulge the negative parts of it and all the kissing and hormones in letters to both some of her ex boyfriends and some of her icons at the time. I loved a letter of all the people she’s kissed and the comments she has on the experiences. Speaking of icons interspersed amongst the letters to family and friends she writes some incredibly funny ones to Madonna who famously has refused to appear on every series of French and Saunders ever.
Whilst there are lots of belly laughs in this book there are some incredibly raw and open parts. There is a letter to Lenny Henry, her husband, telling of the ups and the downs that marriages can have and looking at those in an incredibly open way. I think bar one of the letters to her father the most touching letter she writes is one to her daughter Billie regarding her adoption and how much her birth mother loved her to have to give her away, its both fascinating and emotional and beautifully written.
If you are looking for lots of gossip on celebrities and her times with Jennifer Saunders (or Fatty as she is addressed in letters that are just very long jokes and very funny) and the Vicar of Dibley etc then this has those in the background they are not the main part of the book. What it focuses on is what has made Dawn French who she is today and most importantly by writing to them, who the people are who have made her who she is today.
I have read a lot of autobiographies in my time and they can be sensationalist and show you a very rosy side of the author. This is an upfront no holes barred autobiography that looks at people from all walks of life and how one girl became one of the nations most famous funny faces and it was the insights into her family members, pets and events in her youth that I found so entertaining and make this one of the best, if not the best autobiographies I have read. You have no excuse not to read this book. I could have read this much quicker than I did however I wanted to savour every page. A must buy and one of my books of the year.