The perils of hero worship revealed

Occasionally it can be difficult to think of something new to write about each week, even when it’s a subject that you are passionate about such as this. However with the most anticipated literary launch since the final Harry Potter happening this week, this week’s post was a bit of a no-brainer.

I, like many others, got my copy of Harper Lee’s ‘lost’ book Go Set a Watchman delivered to me on Tuesday. I’d avoided reading about it before the launch date as much as possible, but it got very difficult to ignore the sensationalist headlines once reviewers more respected than myself (cruel world that it is) had their say from their privileged previewed readings.

‘Atticus is a racist!’ they screamed, and Mockingbird fans all round the world were shocked, disappointed, refused to read the new book even. I didn’t join them for two reasons. One - it seemed like a slight hysterical reaction (unless you are in the unfortunate position of having called your first-born Atticus - I happen to know one such person). Two - I really wasn’t that surprised.

Now I’m not presuming I could have totally predicted this turn of events, and that I know what was in Lee’s mind when she created the character. But I was certainly not shocked by these ‘revelations’ about Atticus. In Mockingbird, put simply, he was always a bit too perfect.

It’s fair to say that Scout can be classed as unreliable narrator, at least the book is told from her perspective, and what 6 year-old doesn’t revere their father in such a hero-worshipping way? We as readers should have seen past that to the man behind the child’s portrayal. He’s certainly a good person, but without the rose-tint it’s clear his motivations for defending Tom Robinson are nothing more than duty, rather than a deep-seated drive for civil equality. In fact to paraphrase another great writer, one can’t help thinking that the lawyer doth protest too much as Atticus preaches about the law treating everyone the same.

The trouble is readers put Atticus up on a pedestal as much as Scout did, and are dealing with the events in this new novel just as badly as she does. Just read Watchman as a novel in its own right, and I promise it’ll heal the wounds caused by your ‘toppled idol’.

So, enough about the old, and in with the new. On first reading the minimal editing jars a little, and it takes a while to get into Lee’s flowing lyrical style again. In fact my notes on finishing the first two parts were literally ‘very nice, but where’s this going?’. However there are some gems hidden in all the fluff, as we revisit certain key moments in Jean Louise’s growing-up (can’t call her Scout forever unfortunately) as well as the events of her current trip back to Maycomb. Fans of Mockingbird might be a little unsettled at coming back to the familiar small town with all the familiar characters now aged and different, like coming back to your own home town after a long period of time.

Long story short, this beautifully written novel can make you smile, baulk and think in equal measure. It’s particularly un-fashionable to admit, judging by several high-profile reviews of this book, but I very much enjoyed this book, and despite all the controversy and rumour surrounding the release, I’m very glad Harper Lee managed to recover this follow-up to her modern classic. Far from destroying the legacy of Mockingbird, Watchman just adds a much-needed realistic twist to it, which makes me enjoy it all the more.

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