Go Set A Watchman
Six Word Summary: Mockingbird, grown up, sans the magic
I rate it: 3.5/10
All of my life, I have spoken about Harper Lee as the lady who died having written just one single perfect book. Understandably, when it was announced that her second novel would be released this summer, I was so shocked that she was still alive that I forgot to be thrilled. This became a running joke between me and my friend who had been similarly taken by surprise, culminating in this pun that I’m particularly proud of, which all of three people got (two with prodding)
I confess the purpose of the last paragraph was mainly to tell that joke again, but also to make it clear that the eagerness with which I waited for Go Set A Watchman was enormous. Even when there were reports that Harper Lee has forever polluted the personality of her most iconic character.
In Go Set a Watchman, an adult Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, now settled in New York, returns to the town of her childhood for two weeks to find that nothing has changed and yet, everything has changed. She interacts with some family members, reminisces about her childhood, discovers her father attending a pro-segregation meeting, is heartbroken when the old housekeeper disowns her, mopes dramatically for a while, interacts some more with elderly relatives, suddenly has an epiphany, and stops moping.
That is all.
Many reviewers, and many friends on Facebook, have expressed utter distress at the fact that “Atticus is racist.” I beg to differ from them. Atticus, seen from the eye of an 28-year old daughter, is understandably more nuanced, more imperfect, less heroic, than as seen through the eyes of the same girl at eight. I would actually have been disappointed had shades of grey not been added to his character this time. Atticus was a humanitarian, an intelligent, logical, golden-hearted person with an uncompromising conscience who thought way ahead of his time. But he was human, and it would have been superhuman of him to have developed 21st century sensibilities back in the Jim Crow era. What’s more, people change as the world changes, as they lose their loved ones and see the very people they have been fighting for turn against them.
Atticus’s political sentiments or that one time he attended a KKK meet is not what put me off the story. In my opinion, these were interesting premises for a sequel. The reasons the book did NOT work for me are different.
Usually, it is not fair to compare a book to the previous writings of a writer, but the fact is that the only reason Go Set a Watchman was published, anticipiated, and read is the magic of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you are a Harper Lee fan, you are probably still going to acquire this book sooner or later; all I can offer you then is a more realistic set of expectations: Continue reading