Harper Lee’s New Book: Go Set A Watchman

Classic Literature, Fictional Memoir, Historical Fiction, Legal Fiction

To Kill a Mockingbird is an outstanding book. Exquisitely written, it is a book that saddens and yet heartens concurrently, leaving a warm, contented feeling, despite its less-than-happy ending for underdog Tom Robinson. However, the book’s uplifting effect on the reader comes at the expense of its realism: it touches on, yet mostly leaves unresolved, the issue of racism.

Go Set a Watchman, conversely, attempts to tackle racism; to explain it. Set 20 years after To Kill a MockingbirdGo Set a Watchman is again narrated by Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, at the age of twenty-six. She’s returning home from New York to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set amidst the civil rights movement and the political unrest transpiring in the South, Jean Louise’s routine visit becomes regrettable when she learns jarring realities about her family, the town and the people she loves. Scout continues her narrative – written before, yet set after Mockingbird – resolute in her sense of right and wrong. She discovers to her horror that her father – until then revered as her beacon of morality – holds the same bigoted views that he had seemed to castigate. As Jean Louise loses grasp of her values, and assumed truths, she looks to her past for signs of what she had been blind to all along: that her father was not the ‘perfect’ person she thought he was.

Despite its mixed reviews and reactions, I enjoyed Go Set a Watchman. It’s a well-needed ‘wake-up call’ from the dream-like, simplistic world of To Kill a Mockingbird; Scout matures, and Watchman is the grown-up, ‘real’ story. It is said that much of To Kill a Mockingbird is a product of Lee’s editor, who knew that a more fantastical book based on the same story would sell better than a more ‘realistic’ one: perhaps he realised that people like reading something that makes them feel better about themselves. Who can say if this rumour is true, but I do think that the books seem completely different: Watchman is less a sequel, and more an elaboration on Mockingbird.

As the book progresses, Jean Louise’s disturbed and confused reaction to the news that her family is, in some ways, just like every other in Maycomb (their town), is an empathetic coming-of-age disillusionment with the world; disenchantment with childhood role models that many readers – myself included – could remember themselves feeling, despite different circumstances. Go Set a Watchman tries to make sense, to portray the experience of living in a small town in the South; it explains how hard it was to speak up, and stand up for what they think is right. Without excusing their guilt or sense of wrongdoing, it explores the intent behind their actions: it is natural to oppose political change. The book offers a comprehensible perspective of the South.

Watchman failed to explain conclusively the South’s opposition to the Civil Rights Movement – but perhaps this was intended: there is no simple, ‘correct’ answer; rather, one can only presume their mind-sets. This is a great book that offers context, depth and nuance to a beloved classic.

I commend this book to all, but particularly if you have read To Kill a Mockingbird. You would enjoy both of these books if you are interested in the Civil Rights Movement in America, from the viewpoint of a liberal, white Southern young woman. It’s a little slow-paced, because of all the flashbacks, but hardly hard to read. In fact, it’s incredibly readable, especially for the sequel to a classic.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):



Pace: Medium/Slow

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The Children Act – By Ian McEwan

Legal Fiction

Leading High Court judge Fiona Maye, the protagonist in The Children Act, is faced with difficult moral decisions from every direction, the first being from her husband, who wants her permission to have an affair. This unexpected proposal throws her off, making her unstable and unsure of what to do. After arguing with him ineffectually, she eventually kicks him out, changing the locks the next day. Soon after, a case at work comes up that becomes entangled in her marriage crisis: a seventeen-year-old boy, soon to be eighteen, is refusing life-saving treatment on religious grounds, and Fiona Maye must decide whether to enforce the treatment, or to follow his and his family’s wishes. A relationship forms between her and Adam, the boy, after she visits him in hospital, causing powerful emotions to form in both of them.

I was struck, as I was from Saturday, by McEwan’s ability to gracefully describe an otherwise boring and esoteric situation at work: this time, court scenes and legal documents. His fascination with this world is evident, and the reader is compelled to feel the same. McEwan’s writing is, as usual, beautifully succinct yet descriptive, making for a highly enjoyable and addictive read; I loved its compactness, as I felt much less intimidated by it then I might have been if it had been longer.

I would highly recommend this book for people interested in learning a little about Family law, and what being a judge is like. I would also recommend it to people who are familiar with and enjoy McEwan’s distinct style and approach to writing. As with Saturday, although set in a relatively short time frame, this book’s pace is not slow. This book is suitable for 13-year-olds and older.

My Ratings (out of 10 As):

Plot/Story: AAAAAA


Pace: Medium