Read ‘Go set a Watchman’ – number 31

20170114_191558A lot of people read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at school but I didn’t. I rather wish I had as my set book was ‘Jane Eyre’ and I didn’t like it at all and I still don’t! So I came to ‘Mockingbird’ rather late and in one year read the book, watched the film and saw it on stage. I found it an easy read and of course thought provoking. When I heard that the first book that Harper Lee had written, though it is effectively the sequel to ‘Mockingbird’, was to be published it quickly came on my list of must reads. However, it took me a while to get around to it, but finally I did. Before I say anything about the book, waiting until nearly the end of my time for this list before reading the book has given me an idea. I shall read 55 books before I’m 55 and write a review. That’s 11 books a year, so one a month with one month to catch up. It should all be very doable. Back to ‘Watchman’ for now, there is a spoiler but it comes very early in the book so won’t really spoil anything.

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Harper Lee in 2007 (White House archives)

I had always thought that ‘Watchman’ was the first book that Harper Lee wrote and that the publisher had asked she write another for when Scout was a young girl. However, it seems that ‘Watchman’ was the first draft of what became ‘Mockingbird’ and there was some controversy when ‘Watchman’ was published as to whether Harper Lee was really in agreement with it. I do hope she was, it is very well written for a first draft (though I am sure that it has had some editing prior to publication) it is a fine insight into Harper Lee’s ways of writing. There was a suggestion the manuscript should be held as such in a university library for scholars to read. I would question why only scholars should read and gain from this work? So I feel grateful to have been able to read it.

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Scout and Atticus in the 1962 film

Having seen quite a lot of ‘Mockingbird’ diving into ‘Watchman’ was like meeting up with old friends. Time has moved on 20 years, but Jean Louise and Atticus remained true to their Mockingbird portrayals. The shock was that Jem is dead, referred to almost casually and as if the reader knows early on. Of course that was a disappointment but he does feature in the book as part of Jean Louise’s memories. For the most part she is no longer called Scout as befits a young woman in her mid twenties.

‘Watchman’ starts with Jean Louise’s journey back to Maycomb from New York where she is working. It is now the 1950s and racial tensions are high. Jean Louise is sent into turmoil when she sees Atticus at a meeting and her world is turned upside down as she sees his views are not what she always believed them to be. Thus follows a struggle for Jean Louise as she tries to understand the changes in Maycomb in contrast to life in New York alongside the personal struggle to understand her father.

I found the book again an easy read though I did get a little lost in some of the arguments. I also had to look up the NAACP (for those like me who don’t know, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). There were some views expressed that made me feel quite uncomfortable as these were views of the ‘good guys’ and they certainly don’t sit well in today’s society.

I enjoyed the book, it was thought provoking and quite different to ‘Mockingbird’ while believable that these are the same town and same people but a couple of decades on. I would recommend it and may even read it again at some point to understand the history better. There will of course be no more as Harper Lee was a victim of 2016 and is no longer with us. Unless of course, there is an undiscovered manuscript…

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