My thoughts on ‘Go Set a Watchman.’ First book club choice for August.

After all the hype and the many conflicting controversial reports on Harper Lee’s novel, I prepared to read it on my holidays and decided to try and read it without any  prior  judgement.  I ignored the critics and I am glad I did.

I may be one of the few, but I enjoyed this novel very much.  If, for one moment, we see it as independent of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ I found it a very entertaining, humorous and thought provoking read.   If you don’t wish to know what happens, I suggest you stop reading now!

Scout, or Jean-Louise as she is now known, is returning to Maycomb to see her father Atticus Finch, who is now a 70 year old man.  She also has a beau in Maycomb called Henry (Hank).  Jean-Louise goes home and not only discovers how Maycomb and the people there have changed, but she also reflects a lot on the past.  SPOILER ALERT…..

We find out that Jem died suddenly aged 22 and Dill is off travelling.  Jean-Louise reminisces about her childhood and there are some extremely funny stories during this stroll down memory lane.  One relating to a missing bra and the other about Dill dressing up as a ghost and falling into a pond. Jean-Louise clearly misses her brother terribly and she is happy to tell Hank all about her wonderful childhood in Maycomb.

She then discovers that Hank and Atticus are attending meetings which involve some less that moral men and/or subjects, namely the Klan.  Without finding out more, Jean-Louise jumps to the wrong conclusions, (as did the media in my opinion) and assumes that her father has become a racist bigot overnight.  To my mind, those who believe Atticus is a racist in this book, have missed the point of the book entirely.  He is finding out more about what’s going on, so he can be prepared for any future trouble, as he tells Jean-Louise repeatedly.

This leads to my favourite part of the book, the moral ending where Jean-Louise and Atticus go at it hammer and tongs.  I felt it was well portrayed and strongly  argued by both characters.   Jean-Louise comes to see that Atticus is not a perfect human being, but he’s not a racist either, and that he still maintains and holds all the values that make him so important to her.    I felt she was the flawed character in this book.  She had written Atticus off, without even giving him a chance to defend himself and I hated her for that.  However she did eventually give him a chance to say his piece, and it certainly gave both her and us plenty to think about.   Atticus’s love for his daughter is unconditional but her love for him isn’t.  She expects him to be the perfect person that she put on that pedestal all those years ago, and she has to realize that he is still a great man, but his opinions and convictions may have changed somewhat with the changing times.    The relationship between them is as dynamic and all encompassing as ever, and I loved that.

OK, so there are many inaccuracies in the book, if you set it alongside Mockingbird.  We are told that Calpurnia, the Finches’ maid, has “run off the place” after Jem’s death; but then a few pages later we actually hear that “she returned to the Quarters in honourable retirement”. The worst offence is when they discuss the trial of Tom Robinson, the guilty verdict has suddenly become an acquittal, which is definitely strange given the outcome of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’

However, I didn’t let that spoil my enjoyment, and as a novel in it’s own right I thought it was well worth the read. I understand those who cannot see them as two separate novels, and for that reason they are highly critical of this book.  I do see their point.  In a perfect world ‘Go Set a Watchman’ would be a flawless sequel, but given the fact it was the original story and how it came to be published, that was highly unlikely.  However  I am glad it was published and I highly recommend it!

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