Did you re-read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to prepare? Did you read the first chapter in ‘The Guardian’ at the weekend? Did you go to a launch party? Did you buy it at one minute past midnight? Have you read it yet?
My answer to all of the above questions is: no. I have bought a copy but I must admit, I feel guilty and uncomfortable about it. Why? A number of reasons to be honest.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was the first book that made me realise the power literature has. It didn’t shy away from the pertinent issues of the day and it held a mirror up to an unequal, prejudiced society. Atticus Finch remains one of my heroes to this day and, following the revelations of the first chapter, I am worried that my view of him will be forever tainted. It’s kind of like finding something terrible out about the father you idolise.
So, not only could ‘Go Set a Watchman’ obliterate a hero in Atticus Finch, it could also damage my high regard for Harper Lee. What if ‘Watchman’ isn’t as well written as ‘Mockingbird’? How will the writer in me feel? That said, will it make me remove Lee from the pedestal I’ve had her on since I was sixteen years of age and bring about that she, too, is human and all writers must hone their craft? I could look at it like that but somehow I suspect I won’t be able to be that pragmatic.
Oh, and let’s not forget the rumours surrounding the publication of the book. Harper Lee has been a recluse for decades, shielded by her sister Alice Lee who died aged 103 in November 2014. By February 2015, it was announced the ‘Go Set a Watchman’ would be published later in the year. Is it coincidence that less than three months after her sister’s death, Harper Lee – who had vowed never to publish another book – decided to publish ‘Go Set a Watchman’, the failed first draft of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’? Did the death of her gatekeeper open Harper Lee up to manipulation and coercion? This is the part I find most concerning. Has an elderly lady with failing sight and hearing been taken advantage of by Harper Collins (a subsidiary of News Corp)? However, an independent investigation has found Harper Lee coherent and happy to go ahead with publication. I genuinely hope that is the case.
In the 36 hours since the release of the book, The Guardian are reporting sales of over 100,000 copies in the UK alone and I have – rightly or wrongly – contributed to that figure.
But I still feel guilt about reading it.