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Why I won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman

The much-anticipated sequel to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird was released this morning. But reviews are mixed after generations see a literary hero tumble off his pedestal. Lisa Bradley explains why she won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman.


go set a watchman

If there is one movie moment that always reduces me tears it’s watching Gregory Peck walk out of the courtroom with dignity after losing his case, while the black community in the balcony rise out of respect.

“Stand up Jean-Louise, your father is passing” says Calpurnia to six-year-old Scout – the line that makes me blub more than Ethan Hawke standing on a desk and declaring “Oh Captain, my Captain”, more than two sisters being torn from each other by Danny Glover and vowing “nothing but death can keep me from her”, and equal to the best line ever “I’ll be right here.”

And it’s not just the Hollywood spin, I remember tears streaming down my face when we read that line out in fifth form English Literature, which was very embarrassing given my goth predilection for liquid eyeliner at the time.

Since reading it for the first time at age 15, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird a minimum of once a year. It’s my hot buttered toast, my sugary tea, my security blanket.

Like generations before me, these characters became my idols. Even my seven-year-old son knows who Boo Radley.

Some of my most important life lessons were learnt from that book, to never give up and always stand up for what you believe in, no matter what other people think. That terrible things happen in life, but you must accept them, deal with them and move on. Not to judge other people at face value before thinking about why they may behave that way. That love for your children should be unconditional. Those heroes come in many forms.

From the 1962 film adaption:

So to find out that Atticus Finch the founder of my ethic and moral outlook in life, is a bigot and a segrationist in Go Set a Watchman is like someone telling my five-year-old self that Santa doesn’t exist, the tooth fairy isn’t real and my puppy didn’t get sent to live on that farm. He was run over by a lorry.

The book, which was actually an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, follows 26-year-old Jean Louise as she returns to her Alabama hometown from New York to visit her ailing father.

“At the peak of her outrage, Jean Louise tells her father, ‘You’ve cheated me in a way that’s inexpressible.”

You’re not kidding.

The book came out this morning (Tuesday) and Waterstones in Leeds held a midnight opening.

I couldn’t go.

It would be like those Harry Potter book events, with hundreds of innocent children lining up wide-eyed, hugging copies to their chest, only to find out their hero turns out to be death eater all along.

Perhaps I should take a more mature, earlier Atticus view to this. After all he taught me I should “do my best to love everybody.”

But I just can’t bring myself to see my literary idol topple from his tower. Life is full of disappointments. I’m going to hold onto some of my childhood innocence, and believe that good people don’t turn in villains. Naive as that may be.


What do you think?