Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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Harper Lee’s new book has been tantalisingly anticipated worldwide since its surprise announcement last year, and rightly so. Its best-selling predecessor To Kill A Mockingbird holds a monumental place in literary history, published in a time when concepts such as white privilege and segregation were considered normative and not to be challenged. Set in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement, the original book’s narrator, six-year-old Scout Finch, is the now 26year-old Jean Louise who has returned to her deep South hometown of Maycomb from the cosmopolitan New York.

Go Set A Watchman documents Jean Louise’s return to her native town, which she finds to be permeated by even more racial disharmony than ever before. Jean Louise’s world is turned upside down when she finds her esteemed father Atticus to be associated with a pro-segregation council.

The book features an omniscient narration that ponders the individual conscience, namely Jean Louise’s coming to terms with the fact that not everybody shares her ‘colour-blindness’, not even her loved ones, and learning that harsh actions are sometimes founded on practical thinking. Although the narrative of thought can be quite lengthy in places, it is realistic of the turbulent and conflicting opinions prevalent in a time of racial and political upheaval. Jean Louise encounters numerous characters who preach their different opinions, which allows the reader to judge for themselves whether they sympathise or not with Jean Louise. Consequently Lee skilfully provides an engaging narrative that otherwise could have been very repetitive.

The novel is extremely thought-provoking on a crucial subject still relevant in today’s society, however it is rather slow to pick up, and several chapters of irrelevant events pass before any action really takes place. Lee weaves in chapters of childhood memories from Jean Louise’s past that provide light humour and relief, revealing a more peaceful Southern society, yet they don’t really contribute to the plot. While poignant, the novel as a whole is Jean Louise learning to separate her values from her father’s and become her own person, rather than a sequel to the events of To Kill A Mockingbird.

Overall a curious and endearing read, but it plays more to the nostalgia of Mockingbird fans.


Words by Beth Whiteman

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