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2/5: Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

Jean Louise "Scout" Finch returns to her childhood town of Maycomb after years away. But she finds a different world than the one she remembers...

A long awaited sequel – of sorts – to "To Kill A Mockingbird". Literary critics will be arguing over this for years – how much involvement Lee had in its publication, whether she wanted it published at all, and so on.

I'm only here to tell you about the book I read, a book that shares the same characters as TKAM. It's set twenty or so years later, with Scout an adult and Atticus an old man (Her brother has died off page and is only mentioned in passing).

For the first third, this book flounders. It's not sure where it's going, and doesn't rush to find out. There are slips into extended childhood flashbacks. And I mean extended, almost a whole chapter given to one of them that doesn't have any bearing on what thin plot this book has. There are literary references and events that needed annotation or a search engine before you understand what they mean. It didn't help.

It's a story in search of something to do, and Lee can't find it for a while.

Then we get to chapters ten and eleven, the most powerful in the book, and the only ones really worth reading. Seriously, cut this to a short story with ten and eleven and maybe a third chapter for aftermath, we'd have been good.

What makes it so powerful is quite odd, out of context: Finch discovers her father and potential husband are racists. But this is the same man who defended a Negro against a charge of rape when Scout was a child, a man who taught her that all men are equal and worthy of respect. These are two chapters of absolutely gripping reading as we see her idol, the man and the morals he represented for Scout, tumble and shatter from the pedestal where she placed him. Everything Scout knew about her father and her childhood is a lie.

Atticus takes this all in his stride and it doesn't even phase him. He's actually delighted that his daughter has discovered his secret and won't see him as a demi-god anymore, that she's found something they don't agree on. I can see why he'd feel like that, why he would want her to see him as a fallible human being who makes mistakes. What's more worrying is that he makes no apologies for his stance, and doesn't consider changing his attitude. Even more worrying is that Scout forgives him for being a racist and still loves him anyway; three pages before that, she was going to leave and never come back. In the end, she shrugs her shoulders and forgets the whole thing, it seems.

If this book has a theme, it's that we're all fallible and we all make mistakes. Taken in that context, I can see why Lee would want this published. TKAM is regarded as one of the best books ever written. I can see her rationale: please don't elevate me to the level of a demi-god for writing one good book; I'm just as human as you are.