When I told friends and work colleagues I was reading ‘Go Set a Watchman’ the first thing that everyone says is ‘oh that’s the equal to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ isn’t it – there’s been a lot of controversy around it’. These type of statements don’t ever put me off reading something, if anything they spur me on and I was looking forward of delving back into the world of the American south.
I loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – my dad encouraged me to read it when I was younger, he was a lawyer and he used to tell me how the tale of fighting for the underdog really inspired him, and after reading It I understood why. So was I hyped up to read the sequel – which after some research I realised was actually written before TKAMB – absolutely. Did it live up to my expectations? Sadly not.
Watchman focuses on Scout, Jean Louise as she is referenced to more frequently, returning from New York to Maycomb at the age of 26. Upon coming back Scout soon discovers that although the town may look the same, the belief in the people that she knows, and idolise are soon shattered. After finding many home truths of those around her, my main struggle with the tale was Scout’s reaction, which was over the top including being physically ill, screaming, shouting – the works.
Many describe this area is about Scout coming of age and learning about the world around her, now maybe I am cynical but surely 26 and living in New York, surely Scout should be a little more savvy about the way things work?
Lee’s writing is unmistakeable. Sentences are beautiful and descriptive, however sometimes that goes against the story telling. Well over half the book is setting up the town of Maycomb and is so detailed you really get a feeling for the area and how Scout feels being back, which although is enjoyable to read, doesn’t fully contribute to the story, not enough to justify the amount of the story it takes up, in my opinion. The second half of the book then becomes more about monologues by the main characters which in themselves become long, clunky and at times preachy.
I also wholeheartedly believe that you would get more out of the story if you had an understanding of American history, as it is clear this book is a fantastic representation of a historical movement focusing on racial conflicts. I believe having a brief understanding of the history and being able to place this book in the timeline would give it more impact.
What I do like is how Scout is still true to herself, she is still a tomboy standing out amongst the southern belles around her, and she is unashamedly unwilling to change. I think this is a great message for woman of all ages. I do feel however, at the end by accepting her surroundings and the viewpoints, it felt a little that she was giving up – I thought having built her up to be so independent, Lee could have focused more on a struggle against conformity.
So in summary Go Set a Watchman is worth reading if you appreciate excellent writing, sentence crafting and being able to immerse yourself in another world. If you are a fan of stories which are potentially faster paced with twists and turns, then it may not be for you. I don’t deny that the subject matter of race at that time is not hard hitting, and it did make me think, it just for me wasn’t enough. As a closing note I would also say it is unfair to hold Lee’s latest offering to the same high standards of TKAMB, which will always be a literary great in my eyes.
Little Lemon x