This book had so much hype when it was supposed to come out, so I decided I wanted to read it in spite of some of the less than stellar reviews. The book is a follow-up to the much-loved To Kill A Mockingbird which was a gem of a book. This one just does not have the magic of Mockingbird. I found the second half was rather disjointed and I kind of lost interest as well as the point. The setting is 1950's, right at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Scout is 26 and has returned home from her job in New York to visit her aging father. Atticus is in 70's and suffers from arthritis but he still goes into his office every day. Things have changed in Maycomb. Jean Louise's (Scout) brother Jem has been killed in an accident but we never really find out what happened. Jean Louise's best friend is working in the office with Atticus, Jean' Louse's aunt Alexander has moved into the family home to help care for Atticus, and her loved Uncle Jack seems even more peculiar. And when Jean Louise happens to sneak into a meeting of the Maycomb Community Society and who does she find there introducing the speaker? Her father and her best and oldest friend who wants to marry her. Everything escalate from here. Jean Louise is incensed with the community feeling about Negroes and it results in a huge fight with her father when she confronts him with her new-found information as to how he really feels about the blacks. It was an interesting book simply because we had already met these characters before, but on it's own merit, it just doesn't quite make the grade.
Go Set a Watchman is the second published novel by American author, Harper Lee. It was written before To Kill A Mockingbird, but not published until 55 years after that book. Now twenty-six years old and living in New York, Jean Louise Finch travels to Maycomb for her regular two-week visit with her ageing father. Atticus is seventy-two and often debilitated by rheumatoid arthritis, but he does have young Henry Clifton to work his law practice, and his sister Alexandra lives in the Finch house to help with daily activities. Henry is pressing Jean Louise to marry him, and although Aunt Alexandra considers him unsuitable, Jean Louise finds herself actually thinking seriously about it:
“She was almost in love with him. No, that’s impossible, she thought: either you are or you aren’t. Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all”
But just a few days into her stay, she discovers, quite by chance, something that rocks her to the core, something that has her actually doubting the foundation of her values. Until then, “She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father. She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance the reflex, ‘What would Atticus do?’ passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshipped him”
There has been quite some criticism of this book, and some of that is valid. Jean Louise’s rant in Part VI could certainly do with editing, and while it does not sparkle quite like To Kill A Mockingbird, and perhaps the characters are not quite as well-formed or appealing as that book, nonetheless, Go Set A Watchman has humour and wisdom. It forms a welcome complement to To Kill A Mockingbird, and Jean Louise’s reminiscences of her childhood are quite delightful. At least one passage is lifted wholly from this book and inserted into TKAM, perhaps hardly surprising.
Lee’s character descriptions are every bit as good as in TKAM: “She was a person who, when confronted with an easy way out, always took the hard way” and “She was completely unaware that with one twist of the tongue she could plunge Jean Louise into a moral turmoil by making her niece doubt her own motives and best intentions, by tweaking the protestant, philistine strings of Jean Louise’s conscience until they vibrated like a spectral zither” are examples.
A knowledge of Civil Rights legislation in the mid-fifties comes in handy, but Uncle Jack’s words of wisdom are as succinct and universally applicable as they ever were, as demonstrated by: “Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends” and “…the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right”.
It’s not To Kill A Mockingbird, but it’s still a good read!