Staff Review – Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

GSAWA sequel to a highly acclaimed American classic by a Pulitzer prize-winning début author – who went on to publish nothing for the next 55 years – was never going to go unnoticed. The release of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman has got to be the literature event of the decade.

In the 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Jean Louise Finch narrates events in her home-town from the 1930s American South when as a 6 year old, her father represents a black man in court accused of raping a white woman. Atticus Finch shines as a moral hero against a backdrop of racism, hatred and intolerance.

Twenty years later, in sequel Go Set A Watchman, Jean Louise Finch returns home from New York to a South in transition with wider-spread tensions between black and white than ever before due to the civil rights struggles.

Jean Louise strikes a chord as someone out of step with the world around her and who has to re-evaluate everything she’s ever known.

Written in the mid-fifties, this novel is important not only as a companion piece to Mockingbird but also to attempt to understand the different view-points of the struggle for civil rights that are still relevant today.

At its heart, Go Set A Watchman is a familiar story of someone struggling to step out of the shadow of their mentor and find their own identity. It includes a moving scene where reactionary Jean Louise confronts her father Atticus, who’s behaviour and beliefs are hard to read.

Enjoyable in parts such as the contemporary description of travel improvements observed by Jean Louise written over sixty years ago, the hypercritical customs of the time and I particularly liked the snippets of different conversations blurring into one as Jean Louise and her aunt host a party.

Despite the praise I’ve given, it did feel a bit flat to me at the end – I was expecting more, it all kind of just… got explained away and came to an end!?

Mixed feelings but definitely think it will gather a lot of interest and people will be discussing it for years to come.

Go Set A Watchman is available from all Hillingdon Libraries.

By Ben Caduff (Botwell Library)

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