I searched for my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, but was unable to find it. Harper Lee’s classic was published before I was born and is one of those books I’ve no doubt someone would steal. Go Set a Watchman was published posthumously. It’s one of those books that you could leave on the bus, on the train and hidden in plain sight among a collection of Showaddywaddy, Under the Moon of Love, classic rock singles, and it’s the latter, rather than the former that would be more likely to go missing. Get this. A couple of old guys dressing up as Teddy Boy clobber and getting to Number 1 in the charts with complete pap. We expect that. What we don’t expect is Harper Lee to be too boring to read.
Go Set a Watchman, of course, went to Number 1 in all the book charts. A brilliant marketing exercise. Scout, is now long legged, twenty-six-year old Miss Jean Louise Finch, a resident New Yorker, travelling back to her home town Maycomb by train. She would fly, but among other things Atticus would insist on getting up at three in the morning and driving a hundred miles to Mobile to meet her, and then do a full day’s work. He’s seventy-two now, and his arthritis means he can longer hold a spoon, fork or knife, but he’s Atticus and we know what that means. It means Gregory Peck. It means Jesus asking himself before he made any big decisions – what would Atticus do? So we, the reader, tag along to see and hear and breeze through the post-atomic world of Maycomb County.
Later, in the book, Uncle Jack, Atticus’s brother, accuses Miss Jean Louise Finch of confusing her father with God. Of course she does, after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, doesn’t everyone? But here we find he’s got feet of clay. He’s a bigot. He believes that blacks should be treated like the children they are and kept in their place. That they don’t qualify as right-minded citizens with all the responsibilities that entails. He’d defended the black man accused of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird because it was the right thing to do. Not because he was innocent. He was guilty of statutory rape as the girl was under sixteen, but she was willing. It was a technicality he was willing to overlook. I’m telling you all this so you can overlook this book. I might as well add Scout’s brother, Jem, dies of a heart-attack before he reached twenty-one and is only mentioned a few times. A genetic condition, inherited from their mother. And Dill doesn’t appear. Instead we get Henry Clinton, Atticus’s protégé and eyes and ears in Maycomb’s convoluted political and social hierarchy. He’s in love with, and of course wants to make an honest woman of, Miss Jean Louise Finch. God forbid, sex before marriage. The one bright spot is when Miss Jean Louise Finch remembers when she was a tomboy as the local school, and because someone had kissed her, and put their tongue in her mouth, she believed she was pregnant. There’s a story there somewhere.