To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

I daresay I was in a distinct minority when Go Set a Watchman came out last year, in that I had absolutely no interest in it. I was, after all, not a fan of Harper Lee’s other book, which I’d had to read when I was in high school and had disliked rather intensely, so why would I be any more inclined to read the first draft? Anyway, Lee’s death the other day meant that not only will certain questions regarding the publication of Watchman probably never be answered, but that over the last few days I found myself re-reading TKaM. Cos why not? There’s been plenty of things—films, books, music, whatever—that I tried when I was younger but I only “got” when I was older and a bit more appreciative. With a quarter century more time and experience, would I find I’d been overly hard on the Finch family? Maybe.

I find myself much more charitable towards it on some levels at least; Mockingbird reads excellently, I have to admit, smooth enough that you can kind of overlook how episodic it kind of is until the trial of Tom Robinson is first mentioned (whereupon, of course, the book is dominated by it), and the evocation of the particular time and place in which everything is set is really strong. It’s a perfectly good and easy read that I’m still just not sure is actually quite as significant as it thinks it is. Wiki notes a review that praises the book for “underlin[ing] no cause”, which strikes me as frankly bizarre because the book does anything but, it’s so open about its moralising and message I can’t believe that reviewer missed it; however much the book tries to be even-handed about the less enlightened citizens of Maycomb, you still know we’re supposed to think less of them than we do of Atticus and his handful of supporters, and admirable though its liberal heart is, the book teeters on the edge of being merely sanctimonious. I’m probably less ill-disposed towards TKaM on the whole than I was when I had to read it at school, but some of the reservations I had about back then haven’t really faded. And I don’t suppose I will bother with Watchman either…

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