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July 19, 2015

On Go Set a Watchman

IMG_20150714_172812Good news, if you are one who has constructed your identity along the lines of, “Everything I need to know I learned from Atticus Finch.” Because, contrary to what you may have heard, his wisdom features in Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s new old book, her second book that is actually her first book and which is perhaps not a book at all but merely a draft of one. Lines like, “Hypocrites have just as much right to live in this world as anybody.” And also, “You must see things as they are, as well as what they should be.” Go Set a Watchman is not an incredible novel, though I liked reading it well enough, but it’s a remarkable artifact. (Confession: I may not have bothered reading it were the cover not so wonderful, so terrifically vintage.) I feel okay about reading it as rumours of Harper Lee’s lucidity seem fairly convincing, and I love when book news is so huge—on Tuesday, Watchman was on the six o’clock news. Book sales are good in general too, and so. Scout Finch grows up to be Midge from Mad Men—it’s kind of a amazing. And this Atticus, if he is in fact the same Atticus we know from To Kill a Mockingbird (and keep in mind that he is not Gregory Peck in any case) is indeed a racist, though I wasn’t as disturbed by his views as some readers have been because a) I live in the world and I am well aware that plenty of people think this way (and closer to home, his views about the backwardness of Black communities are identical to those I’ve heard about First Nations communities in my own country) and b) I know he is a fictional character. And it baffles me how readers seem to be so bothered by having the fictionalness of fictional creations pointed out to them (in this book, in incongruities between Attitcuses, or in Kate Atkinson’s God in Ruins at her book’s surprising twist at the end). To me, the fictionalness of a fiction is its most compelling characteristic. I love when a fictional universe is so absolutely rendered that I can see right to its edges. And so I am more interested in two Attitcuses and the two novels than I am betrayed or dismayed by them or their incongruences. Atticus Finch was never my hero. I have read the book more times than I’ve seen the movie, and for me, it’s Scout. Not to undermine the Atticus devotees or to suggest that Mockingbird isn’t a ridiculously good novel, because it is. I’ve read it at least once in the last decade and couldn’t believe how good it was. But then I didn’t reread it last week, which is key. Last week I was rereading a pretty unsatisfactory novel published recently (and it wasn’t even a first draft) so it was this to which I compared Watchman when I read it, and not To Kill a Mockingbird. It is possible that to be as good as or better than To Kill a Mockingbird is an unfair thing to demand of any book, no matter who wrote it.

One thought on “On Go Set a Watchman

  1. Loved this post! Well stated!

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