Book Review – August 2015 – Sallie Eden

watchmanGo Set A Watchman by Harper Lee – Published by William Heinemann, 14 July 2015

55 years after the publication of the Pulitzer prizewinning ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the sequel ‘Go Set A Watchman’ tells the story of the now adult Scout’s return from New York, to visit her father, Atticus Finch.

Set in 1950s Alabama and written prior to ‘Mockingbird’, this book has generated huge amounts of publicity and has been hailed as both a masterpiece and a disappointment.

Some readers will believe that the decent, honest Atticus, as portrayed by Gregory Peck in the film, should remain just that. Others will have loved the original so much, they just want to read more of Ms Lee’s exquisite writing and find out what happened after the trial.

PLOT SPOILER:

Let me say that, like Scout, I believed Atticus to be a shining example of all that was good and decent, and having read in many of the media reviews that in ‘Watchman’ he is revealed to be a racist, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book at all. Even before I read those reviews, I had mixed feelings thinking that perhaps it is better to be known as the writer of a masterpiece than remembered as having written two books, one of which was a disappointment.

So…

On the positive side, the writing is wonderful and I enjoyed the first 250 pages. The majority of the story has the wry humour and eccentricity evident in ‘Mockingbird’, and the racism which has attracted so much criticism can genuinely be argued as being “essential to the plot”. It is also [I imagine] a fairly accurate representation of views at the time. Nevertheless, as I had expected, it made me angry, but it was when I got to Part VIII, which covers Scout’s response and her planned departure, that disillusionment and disappointment really set in.

After the revelation of Atticus’ views on race, and Scout’s reaction to it, I had hoped she would take on the mantle of decency, but the denouement left me angry at the weakness of her spirit and her unwillingness to stand up for what she believed in.

Verdict? For the most part, wonderful, but I wish I’d stopped reading at the end of Part VII.

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