Less than ten minutes after having raced to the end of Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’, I’m taking to my laptop to express my thoughts towards the novel. Having highly anticipated the release of To Kill a Mockingbird’s sequel (or prequel, as Lee technically wrote Watchman before Mockingbird) and realising the relevance of the release of the novel to American Studies, I read up on all the reviews I could find before finally getting my hands on my own copy. It felt like a slap to the face reading the title of one of the first reviews I read which contained the words “racist” and “Atticus” in quick succession, something I had never expected to see. I read a few more reviews and got a similar sense of slight disappointment spewing between the lines of the articles, so, book in hand, I braced myself for a disappointing read expecting Lee to condemn my child-hood hero Atticus Finch as a racist.
The book began slowly, describing a grown-up Jean Louise Finch’s return to her home town of Maycomb, Alabama. Lee cleverly rekindled my fondness of the protagonist’s (Jean Louise) boldness and whole-heartedness despite the character having grown up; gone was the tomboy ruggedness and in it’s place stood a strong, independent young lady. It took a while for the book to begin broaching the topic of Atticus’s racial views, but when it came, it hit like a tonne of bricks. The scene describes Jean Louise observing Atticus’s attendance at a town-council meeting discussing the dangerous power of the NAACP. While it’s difficult to convey the complete meaning of this scene without quoting numerous pages from the book, it’s safe to say that the reader feels as much of Jean Louise’s pain as she when it’s revealed that Atticus isn’t the believer in equality for every man as was once believed.
I’ll say little more about the chronological plot of the story as I believe the final few chapters after this big discovery is made are by far the best and most thought provoking of the book. The final chapters, although a little tricky as a result of numerous literary quotations which are at times hard to follow, really drive home the message that To Kill a Mockingbird made so famous, “you never really understand a person until a person until you consider things from his point of view”. This brilliant link subtly created by Lee, and only just occurring to me now writing this, makes the novel a real work of brilliance and, dare I say it, even better than Mockingbird.
It occurred to me as I was reading the novel, of the significance of it’s appearance now in a time of political and social upheaval concerning blacks and whites in particular states in the US. Who knows whether Lee’s decision to publish the novel now is a quiet comment on the state of relations in these states, or whether it is purely coincidence, however it is definitely worth consideration. Hopefully the novel will provide an interesting point of discussion and will be relevant to certain aspects of my course when I go back to Leicester in September.
The blurb quotes Lee’s piece as “an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion and effortless precision” and I personally find no fault in this description. This review has in no way done the novel it’s justice, so do go give it a read, it’s not a long novel and it will definitely leave you thinking.