SPOILER ALERT.......SPOILER ALERT.....SPOILER ALERT
If you haven't read the book yet, don't read this review or my thoughts on it!!!!
Well after much fanfare and waiting, Harper Lee's long lost manuscript was published and distributed on July 14th. There has been some controversy surrounding it because Harper Lee may or may not have given her blessing to publish it. It's somewhat suspect that the manuscript surfaced after Ms. Lee's sister Alice passed away. Alice was a lawyer, like their father, and tended to all of Ms. Lee's affairs, contracts and royalties from To Kill a Mockingbird. Ms. Lee is about 88 and it's unclear if she is having memory problems.
The manuscript was written in the 1950s, was apparently shopped around with no takers. Then a few years later, TKAM was published and let's face it, that's a hard act to follow. Your first novel wins the Pulitzer Price and everyone wants a piece of you, to discuss it over and over to the point where Ms. Lee refused to discuss 'the book', as she referred to it. Then an incredible movie adaptation is made and again, another hard act to follow. Has anyone noticed that it's probably one of the few old movies that has never been remade? You just can't mess with perfection. But I digress.
Go Set a Watchman takes place about 20-25 years after TKAM. Same characters....Scout, Atticus, Uncle Jack, Aunt Alexandra. Scout....or Jean Louise as she's known now that she's in her 20s....lives in New York City but goes to visit her family in Maycomb, Alabama. Civil rights is in it's infancy, the NAACP is making it's presence known, race relations are very tense. Jean Louise lives in the north and doesn't even notice people of other races anymore because she's surrounded by them. You get colourblind in a big city like NYC. Washington DC has made some new laws which affect the south and they don't like it one bit down there.
Jean Louise takes up with her longtime friend and now suitor, Henry, or 'Hank', who is Atticus' protege and law partner. Her brother Jem passed away from a heart attack...that tidbit of info was pretty devastating to learn. But Jean Louise notices that things are different....very different...in her old hometown. She goes to visit their former housekeeper, Calpurnia, and her visit draws stares from the other black people. Cal won't look at her or talk to her, which of course upsets and confuses her.
Cal's grandson has just been arrested for running over and killing a white man in town, and Atticus has taken the case, just like he took Tom Robinson's rape case when Jean Louise was a child, which as we know is one of the themes of TKAM. A side note: The facts of that case are a little bit different in GSAW, and I don't understand why that wasn't edited to match TKAM.
Unfortunately, Jean Louise discovers a very racist brochure on her father's desk, which leads her downtown to sneak into a meeting of all of the men in Maycomb, including Atticus and Hank, where they are discussing 'the negro problem' and NAACP's meddling. Horrified, she leaves the meeting, absolutely reeling from the realization that her sainted, beloved, fair father is as racist as the other men in town. She was considering marrying Hank, possibly moving home to Maycomb, but now she can't stand the thought.
At this point she goes to visit her Uncle Jack and this is where the book bogged down for me. The dialog between the two of them was really tedious. I found myself spacing out. When she confronts Atticus and they argue, again I found it tedious. He forced her to admit that she had many of the same opinions as the southerners because she IS a southerner.
The book ends with no resolution to anything, in my opinion. I thought it was a pretty dry read overall. Certainly didn't measure up to TKAM, which is just a masterpiece. The best parts where when Jean Louise was reminiscing about her childhood and teen years. I was disappointed considering the build up and excitement I had to read this. I can see why Ms. Lee couldn't find a publisher for it at the time because it would have been considered somewhat incendiary for the time. TKAM was published in 1961 but takes place in the 1930s. GSAW was written in the mid 50s and takes place in the mid 50s, by an Alabaman woman living in NYC, just like Jean Louise.
Finally, the title of the book continues to evade my understanding. It's apparently a bible quote, "For thus the Lord said to me: Go, set a watchman, let him announce what he sees." Maybe if the comma was returned between 'Go' and 'Set' it would make more sense? Is Jean Louise the watchman announcing what she sees in Maycomb? I don't get it. At least with TKAM, it was clear. Both Boo Radley and Tom Robinson were the mockingbirds, and it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.
It's worth a read if you are a fan of TKAM. Maybe other people will find it an excellent read....based on the comments on the book's Facebook page, I'm clearly in the minority....sadly, I did not.