PHIL ON: Harper Lee

Article published on February 22, 2016.

Whilst saddened by the news of the death of Harper Lee announced on 19th February I thought I would take the opportunity, in tribute, to thank her for writing the book that was the one that turned me into the Bookhugger I am today.

As a child I read voraciously, but, like many boys, once I approached my teenage years it just stopped. In those days there wasn’t the wealth of superb young adult fiction that there is today and to be seen reading anything deemed “uncool” was to risk ridicule. I did read Agatha Christie at an age too young to really appreciate it but any reading I actually did was confined to the odd trashy horror novel and anything deemed racy which would be passed around the class, but mainly I read the popular music press. Anything smacking of literature or anything of any length was pretty much avoided.

Like most people my first introduction to “Mockingbird” was at school where it was the set novel text for O Level English Literature. From the moment I started this, originally deeming it as “ just a book that had to be read”, I was back in the world of books. I wanted to read more and more (there wasn’t any more Harper Lee of course) but because of this book there was A Level, an English degree and a life-long love of novels. Thank you Harper Lee.

Before I read the book I had seen the film and Boo Radley had scared the living daylights out of me. I saw it one summer Sunday evening on TV when I was about eight or nine and of films watched as a family on television only this, Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and David Lean’s “Great Expectations” stick in my mind, probably because they all had moments when we would jump out of our seats. I think “The Birds” has lost some of its power to thrill but “Great Expectations” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” have not lost any of their power for this particular adult.

Over the years I have re-read “To Kill A Mockingbird” many times and must be on my fifth copy, having lent out, given away or have had it fall apart as it has been read so much. I can’t believe that anyone reading this would not be familiar with the book but it is sheer magic from the word go. The narrator’s observation of Jem’s broken arm, which had occurred when he was thirteen leads to an examination of how things led up to this event. “He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave the idea of making Boo Radley come out.” And bang, we are into the story, a looking back to a childhood summer where there is much growing to be done and the lines between the carefree nature of being a child and the responsibilities of becoming an adult are smudged. Scout, Dill, Atticus, Jem and Boo Radley are some of the greatest creations in fiction and this book has so much heart, is so involving and a perfectly crafted story with so many memorable moments. Each time I re-read it is a different aspect of the book that really comes to life, sometimes the trial, sometimes the children’s behaviour towards Boo, sometimes the rabid dog incident. Lee’s tale is so rich it demands regularly re-reading. I think “To Kill A Mockingbird” is up there amongst my Top 3 favourite novels (and may very well be my absolute favourite)

In fact I love it all so much and the memories are now so deep within me that I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to read the 2015 publication “Go Set A Watchman” which caused so much of a stir and brought Harper Lee back into the headlines. I’m still not convinced that I want to know what happens to Scout when she grows up, she has existed in a little capsule of time for me for so long that I do not want any disappointment coming. “Go Set A Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” although it is set some years afterwards. However, now I know for sure (?) that there will not be any more Harper Lee I might very well re-think that decision and set myself my own little reading challenge in tribute to this great American writer.

Phil Ramage
Isle of Wight

 

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