Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Go set a Watchman - Harper Lee (Book Review)

This has to be one of the most long awaited follow ups in the history of publishing.  I can't understand why it was never published back in the day.  Harper Lee did enough to be put on the highest rung of any literary ladder with To Kill A Mockingbird.  Especially when you consider that novel was published in 1960.  It is hard today to put that novel into the context that was the USA civil rights movement at that time for most of us who weren't even alive when it first hit the bookshelves. 

Go Set A Watchman was the original title for the original manuscript that eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird.  There is much controversy about the release now of this work.  Some claiming it is simply the original draft for the first novel - having read it that makes no sense to me, others that no Ms Lee is old and infirm she has been coerced into releasing it and others even questioning the validity of it's authorship.

I've read that there was speculation at a trilogy with Mockingbird and Watchman sandwiching another work.  Maybe but having read the book if there was plans for a trilogy I fancy it would have been a further work after Watchman since I was still left with un-answered questions about Scout's relationship with her father.  I would love to have seen another vol set another 10 years or more in the future maybe at the end of Atticus' life.

So is it any good?  Oh yes!  If you've ever read Mockingbird I urge you to read this.  It takes preconceptions about who people are and twists them around.  Is Atticus a bigot?  Or simply playing a part to know the enemy?  You see some of the arguments often used about the emancipation of blacks in Southern USA trotted out but you do get a sense of why some people were frightened.  Given the current headlines about immigration into the UK and Europe there is much to think on in reflecting on modern values and ideology too.  It is set approximately 20 years after the events in To Kill A Mockingbird.  Scout returns to her hometown now a successful professional in New York, but the tomboy has never left Scout and she is soon raising eyebrows among the neighbours.  The real focus of the novel though is over how her relationship with your father is irrevocably changed through her again witnessing him at the local courthouse, the scene of much of the drama in Mockingbird.  Only this time Scout is left utterly confused and her father is reduced from hero to zero in the short space of the meeting.  Much of the latter part of the novel is Scout trying to deal with this and both her father and uncle making cases on different sides of the argument.

Overall in my opinion this is not as good as Mockingbird which maybe why it was never published in the first place but it is still a good work... time may determine whether it is near to the greatness of Mockingbird but for me it is not, still an important novel and it is a shame it didn't appear in the 1960s when I think with the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement it would have had much more impact.  However I still think 50 years on the lessons in there are worthy of exposure and contemplation by many.

Two thumbs up on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb down,
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - very rarely awarded

1 comment:

  1. I can't think of anyone, save the publishing house PR flack, who thought this might be anywhere as good as Mockingbird. It's just not realistic. I suppose I'll get around to reading it sooner or later but I can't cast off the baggage of its publication. This was done without her consent. If you follow the money trail, you'll find the responsible parties. That has robbed my of my enthusiasm for reading it.