“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
― Harper Lee,
This is the third book from my 2016 Reading Challenge!
- A book you’ve been meaning to read: Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee
I bought this book almost immediately after it was published.
To Kill A Mockingbird is near the top of my all-time favorite books – One that I re-read almost every year. When this manuscript was discovered and then published, I knew I needed to get my own copy.
I was immediately attracted to the cover. It’s gorgeous, classic, and something that I think will stand the test of time.
Please note: I will do my best to limit spoilers in this review, but this is your formal warning.
I’ll admit, I read too many articles surrounding the publication of this book in the summer of 2015 – Something I don’t normally do.
There was one significant character detail, surrounding Atticus, that was a bombshell. To me, it came completely out of left field, especially given the events from Mockingbird.
It’s so significant, that I choose to not reveal it here.
However, after I bought the book, I tried to shelve that bombshell and read it with an open mind.
It took me over a year to sit down and read it, but better late than never.
Go Set A Watchman reintroduces the characters of Atticus, Calpurnia, Hank, and Scout, now referred to as Jean Louise Finch. Lee takes us along for the ride with Jean Louise, as she travels from New York to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. She visits for two weeks every year.
I could see how the passage of years had changed everyone, and not necessarily for the better.
I was immediately immersed in Jean Louise’s world. She’s 26 now, and I saw the image of Scout fading and her womanly image forming throughout the book.
Having always enjoyed historical fiction, I appreciated Lee’s take on a typical Southern town, struggling to accommodate the black community and start to accept their burgeoning civil rights. The NAACP and Brown v. Board of Education are prominently mentioned, giving me the impression that the story is set after 1954.
Lee paints certain scenes so well that I felt like I was right there, listening to the local gossip in the livingroom during the Coffee. I could hear the train whistle. I could almost smell the marsh when Hank and Jean Louise go for their swim at Finch’s Landing.
At first, I sympathized with Jean Louise. She’s grappling with visiting her hometown that is struggling with so much change, while trying to keep her wits about her. The same condition that killed her mother has now killed her brother, Jem. She is horrified by her father’s actions at a Citizens’ Council meeting in town. She begins to lose her faith in everything that she thought she knew.
Most of the time, I wanted to keep turning the pages. It’s definitely a dramatic novel, exploring Jean Louise’s actions and reactions to her hometown and all the changes around her. She’s changing as a woman, as a daughter, and as a friend, plus trying to adapt to the world that is in flux.
However, toward the last section, it felt like Jean Louise’s two weeks in Maycomb were more like two years. There was so much dialogue, along with multiple large chunks of inner monologue and stream-of-consciousness, that got very muddy and tough to wade through.
To make sure I was following along correctly, there were several times where I had to pause and re-read some lengthy passages, and I didn’t appreciate that at all.
Also, there were several instances where the speaker or character wasn’t clear, and I had to review the previous passage or even the whole page of text to see who was being referenced. It was immensely annoying, frustrating, and made my head hurt. I kept reminding myself that the main focus of the novel is on Jean Louise, but, as a reader, it’s no fun having to try to figure out the character from page to page.
Overall, Go Set A Watchman is a decent sequel to a landmark novel such as Mockingbird. It clearly illustrates the struggles of the time, and how a 26-year-old woman would potentially adapt to so many changes in a short time period.
It has several excellent qualities – Love, family, friendship, morals, and balancing acceptance. I believe it accurately portrays the attitudes of those white, and black, of the time period, in the troubled South. It was an intriguing novelization of the deep South that made me consider how I would react if I had been in Jean Louise’s shoes.
However, it felt about 75 pages too long. Lee could have done without multiple pages of Jean Louise’s murky thoughts and memories. By the end, some of her outbursts and interactions with others appeared overly dramatic, immature, and frustrating. It was almost too heavy with her characterization, and I found myself wanting more of other characters, particularly Atticus, Hank, and even Calpurnia.
It’s a decent addition to my bookshelf, but not one that I will constantly praise and applaud for years to come.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂