Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

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This is probably one of my most anticipated books of this year and I can’t deny that I was extremely happy to be holding it in my hands the day it was released. However I am fully aware of the controversy surrounding this book from its publication to its content which makes it an incredibly bitter sweet novel. It has taken me quite some time to upload this review as I didn’t want to rush it and with it having many mixed reviews I was in two minds about posting one at all.

Honestly I can’t deny that I did enjoy this book, I am a massive fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, having read it so many times that I’ve lost count. It is a real treasure to the literary community not just for its writing quality but its revolutionary plot in the time it was written. Go Set a Watchman plays on the To Kill a Mockingbird plot, showing how controversial racial hate is and how it can spread throughout the community even to the most unlikely corners. In saying this Go Set a Watchman was an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and I was surprised when reading it to think that this one could have been published first. It seems almost unfair to compare the two books as Go Set a Watchman was written before and wasn’t intended as a sequel, never mind the fact that Harper Lee didn’t want it published in the first place!

Set twenty years ahead of To Kill a Mockingbird, a lot has changed and before the main plotline develops there is a lot for the reader to swallow. Scout who is mostly referred to as Jean Louise, is now twenty six and one aspect of the book that I really loved is that she remained the same from To Kill A Mockingbird. Her personality seemed identical just more matured, yet still carefree, confident and caring. The story sets around Scout as she returns from New York to see Atticus and she suddenly becomes aware of the racial tension in the town amidst the civil rights in America. Yet as Jean Louise was always a free thinker and a confident character, she questions what’s right and wrong. Also I felt it reflected not only her character but her environment, living in New York as a strong independent young woman, she is wise and stands on her own two feet. As she returns to Maycomb she is faced with old values and expectations about what stage of her life she should be at such as marriage and families; Scout remains as the feminist contrast to the likes of Aunt Alexandra which is a fun aspect to the plot.

As for Maycomb, it remains as the microcosm of America, a place with mixed opinions, views and an array of characters. It shows the political and social unrest of the time and how people are differing in views. This book is a real reflection of America at the time and strangely there are similarities with today’s society which points out how much has changed and what views still remains rooted in society.

I don’t want to spoil the novel for anyone but there is one aspect I want to discuss and that’s Jean Louise’s decision at the end, she remains strong in her beliefs yet accepting of others views which may make her look weaker than expected. However I felt that this made her appear stronger as a character because as individuals it’s impossible to change others views and opinions, the people closest to me may not have the same views as me but it won’t change how I feel about them because there are other aspects about them that I love. In a way I can relate to Jean Louise because her town may be broken in place but it will always be home, with the good or the bad, it will always be Maycomb to her and her family will always be her family despite what they choose to believe.

I did enjoy Go Set a Watchman for what it is and it’s difficult to look at it as a new novel having picked it up based on my love for To Kill a Mockingbird, and as much as I don’t want to compare them it’s difficult not to. Go Set a Watchman does lack those fun, childlike memories that To Kill a Mockingbird was littered with however I really enjoyed the flashbacks and the new stories that were shared through Jean Louise. I couldn’t help but miss some of the characters and the child-like innocence of Scout, Jem and Dill, then again this is me comparing the two books which is something I really shouldn’t do.

Overall I really did enjoy this book, it portrayed America at a specific time in history and looking back at when it was written it is an impressive piece of work to question the racial hate and focus the novel on a strong female character. I gave this book a 4 out of 5 stars on goodreads, it is definitely worth reading and I think the more I look back on the entire reading experience the more I seem to enjoy it. This is a novel that needs time devoted to it, at the time of reading it I don’t think I appreciated it enough or as much as I do reflecting on it now. I can see it being a book that I will pick up again in a few months and maybe in reading it again I will find another aspect to it that I hadn’t spotted before.

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