To read or not to read? Last week a new book by Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird exploded on the book world. The circumstances of the publication are controversial. Lee has been adamant for years that she would not publish another novel. The book, Go Set A Watchman was written before To Kill a Mockingbird. At the advice of her editor, Lee rewrote the manuscript from the view point of the young girl, Scout. Depending on the source, the original manuscript was either hidden away or lost.
Harper Lee, who is 89 and has suffered from strokes cannot see or hear and is living in an assisted living facility. Her elder sister, lawyer and sometimes protector Alice Lee has died. Some say the novel is published with the full support of Harper Lee. Others say she never intended for the book to published and that others are taking advantage of her frail and confused state.
I debated whether to read the book. The genie is out of the bottle however, and my curiosity got the best of me. I had read that this book features a racist Atticus, not the calm, gentle hero so beloved in the book and movie of To Kill A Mockingbird. I knew that would be tough to take, and I was fully prepared to hate the book.
I liked it more than I expected. I particularly like the flashbacks with Scout and Jem, their neighbor Dill and a character new in this book- Scouts’ childhood friend and later beau, Hank. A scene where the children play church, and another at a high school dance were funny and very reminiscent of the earlier book.
There is a dark side to the book as well. Jean Louise, now grown, is disillusioned by her hometown and the people in it. She recognizes that if she were to stay and marry, the role offered to her as proper wife has little appeal; she cannot succumb to a life of boring teas and other ladylike activities. The tension of the book comes as Jean Louise realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was. It is a harsh and devastating awakening.
In many ways, this book is more realistic than its predecessor. Characters are more multifaceted. The issues are complex, and speak both to the dawning of the civil rights movement and the racial tensions that exist in our country today. Go Set a Watchman is not a happy book and it does not have a happy ending. It is not the perfect book, a title sometimes bestowed upon To Kill a Mockingbird. It does, however, have something to say. I’m glad I read it.
What about you? Have you read it? Will you read it? I’d love to hear your comments.