I admit I was one of the flocks of millions who anticipated the new Harper Lee novel with glee. A chance to re-enter that world of small town Alabama and the world of those characters, Scout, Atticus, Jem and Dill? Count me in. I consider To Kill a Mockingbird one of the best books ever written. I’ve taught it to 8th graders, and even had a cameo role in a local stage production as a member of the jury.
I did not however pre-order the book, Go Set A Watchman. Practicing thrift, (sometimes) I added my name to the waiting list at my library. I was number 12. No rush, I felt, I have plenty to read.
Then the first chapter was released early. And I read it. And thought: dull. Passive. Too many modifiers. Too much exposition. Dialogue like, “I’ll have an affair with you but I won’t marry you.” I didn’t care about the adult Scout, now using her formal name, Jean Louise and her want-to-be fiancé, Henry Clinton, an assistant in Atticus’ law practice.
I almost quit reading. I do that now with books if the end of the first chapter does not engage me. I’d heard enough about the rest of the book: Atticus now in his 70’s and a bigot, defending the ways of the old South. No Jem, he’s dead. WHAT?
No Boo Radley. How could it be any good?
Add to that all the controversy about whether Harper Lee even gave consent to publish this book. That it isn’t a complete novel but merely a draft of what became her international best seller. That her editor, long since deceased, helped her mold Watchman into Mockingbird. That publishing this book was purely a blockbuster for Harper Collins, owned by NewsCorp, in other words, just making Rupert Murdoch richer.
Then I read two articles that delayed my returning the book, deciding I should give the book a fair trial before condemning it. This one urges readers to look at Atticus as a man, complete with inherent inconsistencies and complexity, instead of as a hero as he is in TKAM.
Writer C. Hope Clark’s posted her review on Facebook. She wrote:
“…No, Atticus was not painted a racist, but should be considered more of a realist. He was part of change, but recognized it as a difficult and complicated changing of the guard. Change is painful and is never handled with a clean break regardless of what people want…”
I can’t say I agree with everything in her review. I found the writing inferior to TKAM, the novel plot-less, and the characters stereotypical. I was fascinated though to see how Lee developed as a writer, under the guidance of an excellent editor. The adult Scout is a bit autobiographical; Harper Lee returned to Alabama after leaving for college and then working in New York City.
Yet I miss the old characters, forever immortalized in To Kill A Mockingbird. The novel maintains its place as most beloved of all time. I read most of Watchman at the beach. Toss it in your beach bag and give it a try. Love to know what you think.