Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

If, like me, you hold To Kill a Mockingbird and its characters close to your heart, this book would have been at the top of your reading list, although you may have been slightly apprehensive about the possibilities of Harper Lee’s new addition. Atticus is an ageing racist, Jem is dead and the Maycomb County we once knew is changing. We re-visit old memories, old characters and we see new aspects of Scout Finch’s adolescence that we have never seen before.

Go Set a Watchman introduces Jean Louise Finch, the 26 year-old Scout Finch that we grew to love, as she returns to Maycomb on her annual trip home from New York. I say introduces, as if we don’t already know her, because Scout Finch has become a grown woman. She may have only traded her dungarees for slacks and still manages to ruffle a few feathers with her lack of dresses and outspoken way, but Jean Louise Finch is a whole new character whose life we are yet to catch up on. While the novel deals with issues of the South, it also tackles the difficult, and sometimes cringe-worthy, process of growing up. Which is exactly what Scout Finch has had to do.

Upon her return Jean Louise finds some disconcerting hidden truths about her childhood love and the man her father, Atticus, has become or, rather, always has been. Like her, readers have looked up to Atticus, put him on a pedestal and listened to him when he imparted wisdom on his children. So when it turns out that Atticus is not the man we always believed him to be, Jean Louise feels betrayed: “the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentlemen,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.“, and we can’t help but feel the sting of it too.

It is for this particular reason that I can say Go Set a Watchman is a complete success. While Harper Lee’s refusal to rework the manuscript leaves certain parts of the book a little awkward, it absolutely does not take away from the emotive transformation that Jean Louise and the reader both embark on from the moment she steps foot in Maycomb County. We feel Jean Louise’s betrayal as if it were our own because like Scout, we absolutely looked up to Atticus and adopted his thoughts and morals as our own; we believed in the character Harper Lee presented to us. To Kill a Mockingbird convinced Lee’s readers that Atticus is a certain kind of man. Go Set a Watchman teaches you otherwise but that it is, also, perfectly okay to disagree with him. Its life lesson is that to be your own person means that you can have your ideals and stand by them, but it also means you can listen to others.

The novel may not live up to the expectations To Kill a Mockingbird had created for it. It’s abrupt and non-explanatory mention of Jem’s death proved rather annoying and you have to wait quite a while to find out the cause, but with an open mind the novel is mostly fulfilling. Since the novel is set 20 years later, in that time so much has changed. You have to re-discover the characters and think back to moments as if they were memories of your own. This, in my opinion, is hardly a negative at all and is actually part of the book’s power and undeniable charm.

4/5 Mockingbirds

Beth xo