Sunday, August 23, 2015


Good to see a fair amount of publicity of late surrounding the publication of Go Set A Watchman, the sort of companion novel to Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, simply on the grounds that any recognition of the power of literary fiction in the media is a good thing.

I haven't read the new one yet, and I'm not in any great hurry. I'm not a huge fan of Mockingbird, even though I've taught it a few times for 'O' level, so I haven't felt it imperative to get hold of the more recent publication relating to it, as it seems so many fans have. Actually the oddly passionate interest in Harper Lee's first, and, until recently at least, only novel seems to me to spring from two differing sources. The first is the simple fact that many readers, I suspect, encounter it in school and, thus, it has a peculiar impact as one of the few texts they'll ever read so closely. And second we have to take into account the strangely mythic power of the whole confection - captured beautifully, of course, in the movie. (Gregory Peck at his magnificent best.) But the truth is that in some ways it's a rather clumsy novel and distinctly over-written in places. (Try reading some of the weaker sections aloud to a class and you'll see what I mean.)

I remember in the late 80's an attempt of sorts being made to 'replace' it in schools (in the UK) as the canonical novel on matters of race in the American South with Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, partly on the grounds that as a black writer Ms Taylor's portrayal of such material was the more authentic. This sounds a bit overly politically correct, I know, but I must say I was a lot more comfortable teaching Cassie Logan's view of the world than I was that of Scout Finch. Cassie struck me as by far the more 'real' of the two children, but I'm not sure that Roll of Thunder plugged into that strangely nebulous mythical power in its evocation of childhood that I mentioned earlier. I can't quite imagine any reader being besotted with it in the same way that some manage with Lee's opus.

But I suppose we've got both, so there's really no need to choose.

No comments: