Okay, so I’m not amongst the first to review this much anticipated book but I’m here and I’m so excited.
First of all though, a brief history…(for those of you who don’t already know the tale)
This book was written before To Kill a Mockingbird but is set twenty years later. Having read the manuscript, Lee’s publishers decided that the flashbacks in the novel and the focal points on young Jean Louise’s psyche were much more compelling and, therefore, decided that they deserved an entirely separate novel…and aren’t we glad they did? Anyway, after a long time of lying lost amongst a pile of papers, Go Set a Watchman appeared in all its glory as an essential read to be partnered with the American Classic that is To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humour and effortless precision – a profoundly affecting work of art.”
This book, unlike its sister novel, is not written strictly from Scout’s perspective. That is to say, it is not written in the first person. However, it is written mainly from the perspective of her surroundings and we get to hear a great deal of what she has to say in her head so it’s close enough for me!
First of all, for those of you who have learned to love Scout for her colour-blind, father-worshipping, I-can-solve-any-problem-with-my-fists-and-a-good-pair-of-dungaress ways, you will not be disappointed. She has grown up to be both adventurous and set in her ways and I think it’s lovely seeing where her life headed.
“[This novel] not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to a classic.”
We begin the novel on a train heading to Maycomb, all the way from New York. (Maybe this is just me but I don’t think it was made abundantly clear as to what Miss Finch was doing living in New York but it’s quite nice to see she escaped Maycomb.) We soon discover that she hasn’t changed much and is still a feisty non-conformatist as she puts on her “Maycomb clothes” just to annoy her corset bound Aunt.
Anyway, the flashbacks on which Mockingbird was based are as lovely as to be expected. There are still scenes of Jem, Scout and Dill embarrassing the neighbours with there shockingly in depth plays and crude acts of childishness, along with little snippets of information about where there lives took them. However, as Jean Louise is now 26 – not just 6 – we also hear of later events in her teens where she deals with her first period and false bosoms.
Do we all remember the Tom Robinson case? Well, even that is alluded to in Lee’s tightly bound Maycomb imaginings. As these novels are set in the South of the US, race is always going to be a big issue. Jean Louise, a “color-blind” young lady, doesn’t see it as an issue but faces bouts of hypocrisy and sickness as she witnesses Maycomb and all that she knew turn to dust. In very few days, Lee sends Scout on a moral rollercoaster and us on an emotional one. If, like me and many others, you developed a rather unhealthy admiration for the characters surrounding Scout then prepare to face the ones surrounding Jean Louise.
“I did not want my world disturbed, but I wanted to crush the man who’s trying to preserve it for me.”
What is most amazing, I think, about these two novels is that the stories are so tightly woven. I know one was based on the other but they were never intended to be published as a pair, which is why I’m surprised that they link so perfectly. Although there aren’t as many direct links between the two as we may have liked, it’s the subtle connections that baffle me most. It’s as though the fictitious world we grew to love remained the same, untouched, and almost so factual that it became as real to Lee as Poirot and Marple did to Christie. All I can say is that authors’ minds are incredible and I wouldn’t mind having one myself. Imagine it: containing entirely different people, towns, even different worlds in your head and being able to create stories with them and make people fall in love with them. I would love to have that ability but I don’t and it can’t be forced…I’ve tried.
If I had one negative thing to say about Go Set a Watchman, it would be this: some of the references to American history and culture are just too obscure for British folk like me. I do not speak for all Brits as I’m sure many of you out there will understand her subtle remarks but, honestly, a lot of them escape me and I don’t feel like looking up every name I don’t recognise to understand a book. Maybe one day it will become clearer as I become older and wiser but, for now, the first half of the book loses me a bit. Even when I tried to look up obscure allusions I wasn’t even sure what to look for. Damn it, Lee. Why do you have to be so politically witty?! I still loved it though.
As can always be expected of Jean Louise Finch, there is a great deal of sarcasm and snobbery from her as she is placed amongst the racially ignorant and several rants about how people are just people and shouldn’t be treated as anything less or anything more. Nowadays, we can all say with confidence that Scout is right and that her point could not be more valid. It’s clear that Scout is Lee’s advocate and, even though her views are more commonly agreed with now, Jean Louise – together with Lee – is still a breath of fresh air.
Maycomb has become a place dear to many people’s hearts and this book solidifies that feeling for me. It’s nice to have an unexpected “How They Got On” finale. My friend once wrote something along the lines of “does Scout’s life end when we turn the last page?” Well, no. Not now!