Settling down to read Go Set A Watchman was a bit like catching up with an old friend. Heartwarming, nostalgic, and at times revelatory.
Warning – there are spoilers in this review so if you haven’t read it yet, you may want to bookmark it until you have 🙂
I first became acquainted with the main characters from Go Set a Watchman, Scout and Atticus, when I was fifteen years old and studying To Kill a Mockingbird, for my GCSE English Literature exam. In To Kill a Mockingbird the year is 1936 and we meet six-year-old tomboy Scout, her big brother Jem and their father Atticus who are living in a small town in Alabama, amongst a small-minded community. The predominant theme is race: Atticus is one of the few white lawyers in the area who is willing to represent a local black man when he is accused of raping a white girl. We see how young Scout and Jem learn about prejudice, class and relationships during the summer of the trial.
Fast forward then, two decades, to Go Set A Watchman. Scout is now in her twenties and has moved to New York. When she returns to her hometown we discover that she is dating her childhood friend Henry and … bombshell number one for me … Jem has died. Lee doesn’t go into details about his death and I am guessing that the reasoning behind this was so as not to detract from bombshell number two. Which is that Atticus is a racist who once attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting. Atticus? Atticus, a racist?! I was so upset by this revelation; however on reflection it probably makes Go Set A Watchman more realistic than its predecessor. I had always considered Atticus to be the perfect man … however is there such thing?
What I LIKED about the book was the fact that it’s one that really makes you think. In my view, these are the best kind of books. The way that Lee incorporates Scout’s flashbacks to her schooldays also made me reminisce upon my own childhood – in particular the chapter where Scout attends her prom. As I had read To Kill a Mockingbird at school, and had empathised with and learned alongside schoolgirl Scout, it seemed apt that I read Go Set a Watchman as an adult, where Scout too has grown up.
You can probably tell that when I read To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager, my favourite character was Scout. Nevertheless I did feel that there was a big Jem-shaped hole where I looked for him in Go Set a Watchman. To Kill a Mockingbird definitely had more of an impact on me and the story will stay with me for the rest of my life – I remember being terrified by Boo Radley, shocked to the core by the racist attitudes of the citizens of Maycomb, and inspired by Atticus and his nobility. Although Go Set A Watchman was enjoyable, I found it a little bit – dare I say – forgettable and disappointing.
Did you enjoy Go Set a Watchman? How do you think it compared to To Kill a Mockingbird?