A landmark new novel from Harper Lee, set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – ‘Scout’ – returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her.
Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past – a journey that can be guided only by one’s own conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humour and effortless precision – a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to a classic.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Jean Louise "Scout" Finch—the heroine of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird—is back and, once again, her bright voice and shrewd observations make for rewarding reading. Set in the 1950s, Go Set a Watchman begins with Jean Louise returning home to Maycomb, Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights movement and making the heartbreaking discovery that her iconic father, Atticus, has morphed into an embittered racist. Despite having been written over 50 years ago, Harper Lee’s second published novel feels incredibly modern, exploring themes that are very much still relevant today.
Reviewed by Louisa ErmelinoThe editor who rejected Lee's first effort had the right idea. The novel the world has been waiting for is clearly the work of a novice, with poor characterization (how did the beloved Scout grow up to be such a preachy bore, even as she serves as the book's moral compass?), lengthy exposition, and ultimately not much story, unless you consider Scout thinking she's pregnant because she was French-kissed or her losing her falsies at the school dance compelling. The book opens in the 1950s with Jean Louise, a grown-up 26-year-old Scout, returning to Maycomb from New York, where she's been living as an independent woman. Jean Louise is there to see Atticus, now in his seventies and debilitated by arthritis. She arrives in a town bristling from the NAACP's actions to desegregate the schools. Her aunt Zandra, the classic Southern gentlewoman, berates Jean Louise for wearing slacks and for considering her longtime friend and Atticus prot g Henry Clinton as a potential husband Zandra dubs him trash. But the crux of the book is that Atticus and Henry are racist, as is everyone else in Jean Louise's old life (even her childhood caretaker, Calpurnia, sees the white folks as the enemy). The presentation of the South pushing back against the dictates of the Federal government, utilizing characters from a book that was about justice prevailing in the South through the efforts of an unambiguous hero, is a worthy endeavor. Lee just doesn't do the job with any aplomb. The theme of the book is basically about not being able to go home again, as Jean Louise sums it up in her confrontation with Atticus: "there's no place for me anymore in Maycomb, and I'll never be entirely at home anywhere else." As a picture of the desegregating South, the novel is interesting but heavy-handed, with harsh language and rough sentiments: "Do you want them in our world?" Atticus asks his daughter. The temptation to publish another Lee novel was undoubtedly great, but it's a little like finding out there's no Santa Claus.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I put off reading Watchman for quite a while mostly due to the fact that Lee did not agree to the publishing before her death, but eventually gave in and enjoyed the book. Interesting to revisit the TKAM characters later in life, especially knowing this book was written first.
Tom Robinson died
In the adoration many feel for Harper Lee's first published novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the eponymous movie, it's often forgotten that all Atticus Finch's legal skills did not save his client. Readers saw the trial verdict for the travesty it undoubtedly was and celebrated Atticus's battle against the prevailing bias but none of that changed the outcome. Tom, shot running away, was as dead, his family as bereft, as if he'd been lynched when Atticus, Jem, Scout and Dill combined to prevent it. The message of that book, I think, is one of hope for a different, better world.
Go Set A Watchman has a similar message. It isn't as obvious, and one has to wait for it. I am not sure whether the older Atticus is really a segregationist, or instead, he is travelling with them in order to change their direction. I suspect subsequent re-readings will help me decide. It's clear that Jean Louise, the grown Scout, is not and never will be. The depth of her character, revealed by Harper Lee, is testimony to this steadfastness.
What's interesting is that we know that Harper Lee was working backwards from Jean Louise to Scout, as Watchman predates Mockingbird. The prequel concept is not new to modern readers/viewers as any Star Wars fan can tell you. Yet most of those are set before, not written before, the original. Other reviewers, some of whom, one suspects, may have benefitted from a deeper reading, have not been as well disposed towards Watchman as am I. They see in the less clear moral supremacy of the elder Atticus something of a betrayal. I don't.
I can't help wondering if Mockingbird was a more acceptable tale when it was published. Perhaps the deeper, less obvious, but no less odious, racism apparent in Jean Louise's Maycomb was to close to the bone and it had to be put aside for a more acceptable, white trash version, apparent in the Maycomb of Scout. In any event, Watchman is very readable and deserves to sit alongside Harper Lee's first published work.
You should read this book. Read it for the reasons that football fans go to pre-season games or training - to see how Harper Lee developed as a writer. Read it to see how she saw these characters in their later lives. Read it to understand how racism can be justified in the minds of racists, to the bewilderment of those who are not. Read it because it is just very good.
Not much story line
I thought this book was going to be great but it didn't seem to go anywhere