It is a strange and nasty world we live in. There has been world wide hysteria and anticipation for the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, hailed, for some (including me) as one of the greatest books ever written. I read it pretty much once a year. I think I have read it at least 20 times.
There has always been the Harper Lee mythology. She is a hermit. She felt she had said everything she wanted to say in TKAM. She was disillusioned with the way the world turned out. She did not do interviews. She is not a public figure.
Then there was the total excitement of hearing about Go Set A Watchman. The sequel. People have been pre-ordering it online for months now. There has been total hype and frenzy. And nobody listened to the rumbles. The little stories.
It has been reported that Harper Lee never ever wanted Go Set A Watchman published. It has been said that she was never, ever happy with it. It has been rumoured that she is going senile and her sister wanted the money and released the book. (I have no idea about the truth of any of these, but it is possible there is a shred of truth in them.) What is true is that she wrote Go Set A Watchman first, and then wrote its characters into a previous time. To Kill a Mockingbird was published first but written later. It was the one she wanted to publish.
I was curious, hopeful and a little bit afraid to read Go Set a Watchman. I read the first chapter, published by The Guardian as a teaser (with awful and distracting moving graphic images of cartoon trains) and I was heartbroken. It was horrible, and I am clear that I won’t read the rest.
In the meantime, the scandal has started. Atticus Finch is now a racist. Atticus Finch, who burst out of his character on the page (and on screen) and became a real human hero for many of us, has now grown up, and into a racist who believes in segregation. Why couldn’t we listen to Harper Lee, and believe her when she said she didn’t want to publish this book? Why did our curiosity win? Why is she going to be punished for something she didn’t want to happen in the first place? Why, like Boo Radley, is she going to be forced into the light, but with no Atticus left to defend and protect her?
This makes me so, so sad. And I can’t help feeling that in this time and place the world wanted her to fail.