Before I begin I have a confession to make… I’m not a huge fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it too young and just felt it was too long. So I didn’t expect much of Go Set a Watchman. It certainly had some bad reviews.
I approached it with a slightly disinterested curiosity – it’s the book to read at the moment, but otherwise I would have felt no real pull. I also read it on audio – which probably limited the unevenness that this unedited manuscript is becoming known for.
So, when I tell you that I really enjoyed Go Set a Watchman, you have to know all of these things.
I know many of us were devastated at the revelation that Atticus Finch was perhaps not the great hero we thought he was – but that didn’t matter too much to me. Just as To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of how a young girl is shaped by the moral views of her father, Go Set a Watchman is the story of a young woman coming to terms with the fact that in many ways, she has surpassed her father morally.
Jean-Louise is now a grown woman, and while no longer a tomboy, she is believably the kind of stubborn, opinionated, trouser-wearing woman we wanted her to be. Based in New York, we find her coming home to Maycomb for her annual visit, where Atticus is suffering terribly from arthritis and sadly Jem passed away years ago from the same hereditary heart condition that took the children’s mother.
For Jean-Louise (for so she is called for most of the novel, with the occasional Scout thrown in), Atticus is the man who has shaped her life and all her beliefs. The famous court case of so many years ago shaped her into a woman she describes as “colour-blind”. Although Maycomb is home, she acknowledges she is much more forward-thinking that the rest of the community.
But when she finds a racist pamphlet amongst Atticus’ things and then sees him amongst the respected townspeople listening to a speech against the NAACP, her world crumbles.
When finally she confronts Atticus about what she sees as the ultimate betrayal of everything she thought he represented, I was riveted. Where was this going to go? I did nothing but wonder about what little of the book was left until I could get back to it.
I wont spoil the ending for you, which is both perfect and imperfect and clearly central to what Lee wanted to communicate in this novel – which is ultimately about family. It’s more about family than race this time, which has made me want to go back and look at To Kill a Mockingbird all over again. I’m already about a quarter of the way through before I could even put my thoughts together for this review.
So what is my conclusion? I think there is so much beauty to this novel. It may be rough around the edges, but there is some magic here – perhaps magic I missed when I first read Harper Lee.