Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book Review: Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

This week Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set A Watchman’ was released, which is the much-anticipated companion to her best-selling novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Reactions have been mixed: some reviewers have claimed it is an even better novel, or at least more complex, than ‘Mockingbird’, while other reviewers have labelled it disappointing.

For me it is not as good as ‘Mockingbird’, although if you are looking for something to read you could do worse. In ‘Watchman’, the heroine of ‘Mockingbird’, Jean Louise (Scout), returns to her hometown after twenty years away, and discovers that her father Atticus is a bigot who opposes the integration of black and white Americans. As a plot, I didn’t find it nearly as engaging as the ‘black man accused of raping a white woman’ court case plot of the first book. (Though I should admit that I haven’t read ‘Mockingbird’ for about twenty years, so my recollection of it is definitely hazy.)

The main characters are also less engaging as well. Scout’s brother Jem – an important offsider in ‘Mockingbird’ – has died. Scout’s character is possibly more filled out, though it means that to some extent her character comes to dominate the novel in a way it didn’t in ‘Mockingbird’, in which I recall her being as much an observer of the events around her. And Atticus … Atticus’ character – the man who defended the accused black man in ‘Mockingbird’ – seems so changed that it feels like a different character. No-one who reads ‘Watchman’ will be able to think of ‘Mockingbird’, or the movie that was made of the book, in the same way again.

Almost as disturbing for me though as the change in Atticus’ character is a line said by Jean Louise as she argues with her father about his bigotry. “Your ends my well be right–I think I believe in the same ends …’ she says. What does this mean? Does she also think that blacks and whites should not be fully integrated? Perhaps I have misinterpreted the comment. But if not it seems to cast a disturbing shade upon the whole enterprise of ‘Mockingbird’, which has for years been seen as one of the best and most definite denouncements of racial prejudice ever written.

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