The announcement in February that another book by Harper Lee had been discovered sent the book world into a frenzy. We had all resigned ourselves to the fact that Harper Lee would only publish one book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and I suppose if you only ever write one book then it is a good one to have done. Not only is it another book by Harper Lee but it follows on from ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. It is a chance for us to meet our favourite characters again and find out what has happened to them. Go Set A Watchman is in fact the original novel that Harper Lee was writing but instead developed the story and that became known as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.
The announcement of the discovery or even rediscovery as it may be has raised questions about should the book have been published and is Harper Lee being forced into publishing it and therefore is it right for people to read it. I can’t answer all of these questions but what I will say is what is the difference between this and publishing a book after someone has died when they have no control over the published text. As a reader we all have choices to make and we have to decide whether we want to read it or not without being judged. As the line in the book goes “every man’s watchman, is his conscience”. The book is now published and we all have that choice to read or not to read. I made the decision to read and here is my review of the book.
When I started reading ‘Go Set A Watchman’ I was mixture of emotions. I was excited to read it (it has been a long time since I have felt this way about starting a book) but I did have some apprehension. I had heard some things in the media about characters and although I tried to avoid this news I still heard some things and this made me worry that it may spoil my memory of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. I decided I wanted to know the facts for myself and the only way to do that was to read it.
Within minutes I was transported back to Maycomb County and realised life was similar to how it was although I would soon learn things had changed. Just like ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ we see events through the eyes of Scout. Scout is now a young woman who is living in New York but has come back to visit her family and has to come to terms with the changes in Maycomb and people she thought she knew.
Racism is a big theme in the book and the use of ’n’ word is very frequent and makes me uncomfortable as a reader. The book is from the 1950’s and of it’s time but as a modern reader it is still uncomfortable reading that word. In the book we learn that racism is still a major issue to the people of Maycomb and learn that segregation is more apparent than ever. The most heartbreaking scene in the book for me is when Scout goes to see Calpurnia at her home. Calpurnia was like a mother to Scout and Jem but now is distant doesn’t show that love to Scout as an adult. Racism and racial tensions have worn that bond down even between people who were accepting of each other. Scout is distraught at this and asks reluctantly “Did you hate us?”. As a reader I dreaded the answer to this question. Calpurnia is my favourite character in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and wouldn’t be able to accept her hating the Finches. She shakes her head to say no but this makes it even harder to deal with as you know that relationship has gone.
Scout’s world and impressions of those close to her is challenged in this book and because we the reader see events through her eyes we are also challenged. We learn that Atticus is sympathetic to some racist arguments and this is tough to accept. This is the man the world of literature and wider has worshipped, used as a role model to be a good person. We now learn he is just as flawed as others. Does this make him a bad person maybe yes maybe no. It does mean that our relationship with the character has changed in this book. I know he is at heart a good man he has shown that in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ but we let ourselves only see the good just like the child Scout did. As an adult we learn more and the person we idolised is not quite the same person we thought and we need some time adjust to this.
Chapter 17 is where Scout and Atticus have a head to head about all of this. It is one of the most intense chapters of a book that I have ever read. So much so that after reading it on my lunch break I found myself in a really odd mood. It had really got to me and bothered me. I felt like this for the rest of the day. Although I didn’t enjoy feeling like this it is the sign of a good book. To get under the skin of someone like this is a skill and shows a connection between reader and writer.
Reading ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is an emotional experience. As a reader you are challenged about the ethics of reading this book in the first place, then challenged with racism, and discovering well-loved characters/people are not what you thought they were. This book will have an impact on you and your experience of ‘To Kill A Mockinbird’. It doesn’t spoil it or take away the enjoyment of this well-loved book but it is hard to escape that you will view somethings differently. Although ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is a good book it isn’t perfect. There some continuity errors such as we are told a character leaves suddenly but then we meet that character again and it appears nothing has happened. I overlooked this but it does show that very little/no editing of the book has been done.
Whether you decide to read this book or not is entirely up to you. Although an emotional read I am glad I have read it and it is a very good book. Yes at times it is uncomfortable to read but as a reader I want to be challenged sometimes and this book although from the 1950’s still has that power to do this.
I would rate the book 4.5/5.