Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, July 20, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Oh Lord, this book.

Go Set a Watchman is bad. So much worse than I could have imagined.

But so very instructive.

It's a coming of age tale.... If, by "coming of age," you mean "how to grow up morally and emotionally by placing your feet solidly on top of an entire race....and how to justify it."

This is a book that you could say shouldn't have been published, but maybe it had to be. Maybe we, collectively, all Americans (and white folks, I'm talking about us), maybe we needed a good slap in the face. Maybe we needed to come face to face with just how big the lies are that we've been telling ourselves.

To Kill a Mockingbird was never America's defining book about race and justice. We just liked to think so. Atticus Finch, especially as played by Gregory Peck, played so well to white ideas of the gentleman, of the myth of individual nobility and justice.

Didn't you always, in your heart of hearts, suspect it wasn't true?

Shouldn't we have known that it was too easy, it couldn't be true.

It is not possible to live within the structure of white supremacy and structural racism as a white person and not benefit from the structure, thereby becoming complicit.

Go Set a Watchman is full of paternalism, racial superiority, bigotry.... in other words it's American.

If you haven't read Go Set a Watchman yet, you probably should read it. I guess. Just be prepared: it is repulsive, disgusting, disillusioning. Not for what it tells us about Atticus Finch, but for what it tells us about ourselves and the lies we need to tell ourselves.


Grad said...

I hated the book as well, but not for the same reasons. For one thing, the writing is very amateurish and cliched. I think the tone of the book - the prejudices that existed in America at that time - are basically the same as what we see in TKAM. But there were heros in the days of the civil rights movement. People who risked it all. Some of them were white, and some of them died for their efforts to change the status quo. In Atticus Finch, Harper Lee gave us one such hero. That's the Atticus Finch I chose to remember. Let's face it, we need heros. Even if they live only in fiction.

bibliophiliac said...

@Grad-I agree, there were heroes at that time, both white and black. But Go Set a Watchman didn't show any such people or possibilities. I agree with you about the writing. Immature is the word that came to mind. I will probably write a more coherent review later. These are literally the first thoughts on just finishing the book.

bermudaonion said...

I'm on the fence on this one and it's not because of the context. I've heard it needs a good editing.

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-Definitely. Compared to the confident narrative voice of TKAM, and the artistic strengths of Harper Lee's one published book, Go Set a Watchman is inferior. I think a good editor could have helped, but maybe this was just the book she needed to write before she wrote her more mature and better written book. No matter...this is the book readers now have to grapple with, and I think it will be guaranteed to change how readers see TKAM.

JoAnn said...

At this point, my plan is to reread TKaM next year and then read Go Set A Watchman... after the hype has died down. It probably is a book we all need to read. Thanks for your perspective.

bibliophiliac said...

@JoAnn--thanks for reading... Now that I've read GSAW I plan to read TKAM again. Wonder how my perspective on this book will change?

Terra said...

As of this moment I am not called to read this book, but sometimes a book will fall into my hands so I might read it someday. My TBR stacks are of books that I am called to read :)

Lisa said...

I hadn't thought I'd read Go Set A Watchman, less because of what happens with Atticus and more because I really don't think that Lee wanted that book ever published. But a friend passed her copy on to me so now it's sitting there calling to me.