Go Set a Watchman Hardcover – 14 Jul 2015
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"A new work, and a pleasure, revelation and genuine literary event…Go Set a Watchman shakes the settled view of both an author and her novel…This publication intensifies the regret that Harper Lee published so little." (Mark Lawson Guardian)
"Go Set a Watchman is the more radical, ambitious and politicised of the two novels Lee has now published…It has contemporary relevance where Mockingbird is safely sealed off as a piece of American history…It does not undermine Mockingbird but it makes a reassessment of that story absolutely necessary…It is a book of enormous literary interest…Beguiling and distinctive, and reminiscent of Mockingbird…Go Set a Watchman can’t be dismissed as literary scraps from Lee’s’ imagination. It has too much integrity for that." (Arifa Akbar Independent)
"More edgy and thought provoking [than To Kill a Mockingbird] … It has a power to it beyond being a mere historical curio or more lit crit material for Harper Lee studies… Eccentric characters are brightly drawn. There is Lee’s trademark warmth, some droll lines and the sense of place and time is strong…[It has] a surprisingly provocative message ― don’t airily dismiss the prejudices of others, try to understand them." (Robbie Millen The Times)
"The flashes of lyrical genius and ability to evoke the intensity of childhood play that come to fruition in To Kill a Mockingbird are in evidence…It’s nowhere near the novel Mockingbird is. It is much better than that…What Watchman tells us, and tells us rather powerfully, is that racism is not confined to people who are so clearly not like us…Watchman is for grown-ups. It asks serious questions about what racism is. And it comes at a time when American desperately needs a grown-up conversation about race." (Erica Wagner New Statesman)
"I’m happy to report that most of the caveats and conspiracy theories surrounding Go Set a Watchman melt away as you read the opening chapters and reacquaint yourself with that beguiling Harper Lee narrative style ― warm, sardonic, amused by male folly and social pretension, wryly funny, a sassy Southern voice, Mark Twain with a dash of Katharine Hepburn." (John Walsh Sunday Times)
"We have travelled into the past and returned to find that our present is not quite the same as we left it. Atticus Finch will never again be the white knight we once thought him. And yet the mockingbird still sings ― no longer a song of innocence, but maybe one of experience; a song that combines sorrow, forgiveness ― and, ultimately, a kind of hope." (Joanne Harris Daily Mail)
"There are some flashes of genius…My favourite scene is at “a coffee”, where our rebellious Scout must make small talk with a bunch of married former acquaintances whom she deliberately hasn’t seen since school. Lee’s précis of their vapid conversation is hilarious, feminist and wickedly modern." (Katy Guest Independent on Sunday)
"Go Set A Watchman is a powerful and moving novel… The opening chapters are slow and languorous, beautifully setting the scene. Lee’s unadorned style is lit up by the occasional sparkling metaphor." (Vanessa Berridge Daily Express)
"A literary masterpiece, and an enjoyable one at that." (Natasha Harding Sun)
"Equally significant today, and imbued with Lee’s wisdom, humanity and humour." (Justine East Independent)
From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.See all Product description
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But, above all, you may be disappointed if you are not interested in an accurate portrayal of the mindset of Alabama and the Southern States at the coming of the Civil Rights Movement, which is at the centre of this work: as the seeds of genuine emancipation of Blacks were shown to be sown in Mockingbird, so its often bitter early fruits are described twenty years on in Go Set a Watchman, a flawed novel which nonetheless has found its time, as its predecessor did, and like its predecessor may well be remembered for its simple humanity. But, for lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird with open minds, there are riches to be had.
If (like me) you are interested per se in first drafts and the process of creation, then Go Set a Watchman is fascinating. However, at this point I'll say that this isn't the valedictory work I'd hoped would be published. Lee wrote some 150 pages of notes for Truman "Dill" Capote's In Cold Blood, but Capote rejected her interpretation of events, and barely credited her. In Cold Blood is often seen as effectively ending these two writers' literary careers, and it would have been interesting to have seen her version of the tragedy.
What made Mockingbird so intriguing was not so much Lee's whimsical-ironic style (not quite Jane Austen as hoped, but still engaging) or the subtle manipulation of the gothic genre, as the dramatic arc of the plot itself—the Boo Radley and Tom Robinson stories, seemingly discrete, but crossing at the end in memorable fashion—and the great set-piece of the trial, as well as carefully wrought passages of suspense, such as the children's dares at the opening and the post-pageant terror which marks the climax. The characterization and the capturing of a lost generation - also superbly done - are practically all we have remaining in a talky, thinly plotted and quite cerebral tale; and the one trial we might reasonably expect to witness in this sequel never in fact takes place.
Sequel, because this novel of slightly mysterious provenance strikes the reader as a continuation of the first book rather than an draft of it. Moreover, it unfolds in a parallel universe with some discrepancies—both major and minor—from the original. How Mockingbird was produced has always been the stuff of legend—it was written, some said, by Capote, it was mostly composed, said others, out of Lee's short stories by her editor, Tay Hohoff, and various points in between. My understanding, perhaps a cynical one, is that Hohoff spent two years editing Lee's writings because the publishing house wanted to ride the coming interest in Civil Rights and thus have a bestseller on their hands—hence the significant changes to the Tom Robinson story we have here. The stitching in Mockingbird is indeed cunning and almost invisible, but the seams can sometimes be discerned: look in particular at the "Misses Tutti and Frutti" passage, where there is some telescoping out of character with the rest of the style.
But this is purely academic. While Mockingbird might not quite have the integrity of great literature (in the sense it has a single artistic voice) it makes a good fist of trying to be it, and every reader finds merit therein. Go Set a Watchman, seemingly at first consisting of outtakes from the previous novel, takes some time to reach its stride and become rewarding, but its rewards by the end are irrefutable. Lee's lawyer's mind, which puts Alabama on trial in both books, now also puts New York, her father and family, and herself on trial. Every page might be said to be watermarked with honesty.
However, caveat lector. This work, which begins with a weakish romantic plot about Atticus's protégé, Hank, and his relationship with the overgrown tomboy Jean Louise, has so little dramatic engagement it leans heavily on the good will of a knowledgeable reader and takes its time in becoming involving. Moreover, the its later stages it falls into protracted arguments of a philosophical, political and legal nature, with authorities alluded to which may leave the average reader scratching their head or rushing to Wikipedia. To take one example, Bishop Colenso is introduced into one discussion (and mentioned again later) with no explanation as to what he did. I happened to know because I studied him, but there were plenty of other references I did not get, in particular when it came to the niceties of the American Constitution. What exactly did the NAACP do to the Tenth Amendment? Pass. It is also very old-fashioned in its concepts: perhaps the first book since the heyday of pulp fiction to portray violence on a woman in a positive light.
But there is no denying that this episodic and ill-constructed Song of the South gets to the very heart of what Alabama and its allies were fighting for in 1861. 95% of the Confederates, we are told, had no involvement with slavery: what was being contested was the right to individuality, an individuality which had been inherited by these "sons of bitches" from those "sons of bitches", the British, with few degrees of separation. Time and again in literary and other references—notably in a key section where Uncle Jack holds forth—the connections are made between the Confederates and their erstwhile Mother Country. Unless my history fails me, Texas almost voted to join the British Empire, and the British Empire failed to join the Rebel cause only because the South wanted to keep slavery. The South, says Dr Finch, was "little England".
It also gets to the heart of why the South found it so difficult to accept the Civil Rights movement which followed the Second World War, significantly putting these arguments into the mouth of the saintly Atticus from the first book. "Too much too soon" seems to be the gist of it; his still-idealist daughter ends that chapter in a way which eerily foreshadows present-day resolutions on the Internet. But the reader, apparently unlike Jean Louise, has not forgotten her recent painful visit to the Quarters, and its contrast with the parallel visit in To Kill a Mockingbird. Nor does Lee let things rest without a reconciliation that imparts a truer wisdom about humanity, a fact which seems to have escaped some critics. This is Scout at last growing up, while her old folks, like all old folks, get increasingly conservative.
Now, 150 years from the end of the American Civil War, as the Confederate flag is for the last time lowered in the Southern states, Go Set a Watchman provides a fitting and poignant epitaph for a culture and a tradition which could not continue—could not have been allowed to continue—into a modern democracy which embraces equality for all. Why it took so long, why it was necessary, what was lost in the capitulation, and what can never be lost—from community and family and the watchman of conscience—forms the core theme of this novel, one of a kind that has itself been overtaken by a different age, but which shares with the reader an honesty that is shamefully too rare in modern literature.
It seems that fame made the author review Scout and Atticus, but there is little to make it interesting.
Pity about Jem,though !
I admit that "To Kill a Mockingbird" was not my reader's choice however, the children and their antics made the book more interesting than the racial theme that got critical acclaim.
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