I originally said I would not read this book. For me it was a matter of principle. I don’t believe the author wanted this book published. Over and over during her lifetime she said she would not write/publish another book. She would let To Kill a Mockingbird be her definitive literary accomplishment.
Then suddenly, after her sister, who served as her attorney and agent, died the new agent found this other book that had been mysteriously hidden for decades. The new agent somehow convinced Ms. Lee to publish the book. The author, in her late 80s, was both deaf and blind. How did they honestly communicate with her? To me it smells of publishing greed.
As I said, I didn’t want anything to do with the new book, but members of my book club, whom I respect, wanted to see what it was all about. I borrowed a copy from the library and dug into it, reluctantly.
The publisher, or others who want to make money off the book, say Go Set a Watchman is a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. No way. This is the draft novel that Harper Lee wrote back in the 1960s. She gave this book to her original editor who suggested she make the changes that resulted in Mockingbird. It may appear that way because in this book Scout is now a young woman. She’s been living in New York and has come home for vacation. Scout reconnects with her family and some of the people in Monroeville.
I actually liked the first part of the book. There’s no doubt that Harper Lee is the creative force behind Scout. I liked the grown-up version of her. She’s sort of what I thought she’d be like when she grew up. She made me smile and laugh out loud and, yes, shake my head. I liked Henry and that little bit of romance. And, I liked seeing the small southern town through Scout’s big-city eyes.
That’s it as to what I liked in this book. When I hit the second half of the book, that was it for me. Now Scout and I are forced to believe that every person in life has a place, depending on their race. There is no good reason to progress beyond those pre-set positions or boundaries.
Atticus is now revealed as not just a racist, but as one of the area’s leaders willing to do whatever necessary to stop progress. Even Calpurnia (the black housekeeper who helped raise Scout and Jim) is cold toward Scout! How could these people suddenly change their values and personalities in such a short time? I know they are fictional characters, but are they really?
The beauty and genius of To Kill a Mockingbird was that Scout, Atticus, Jim, Calpurnia and even Boo-Radley did come alive for all of us. Both the book and the film gave us hope. We saw a world in which human decency, intelligence, common sense and the whole assortment of good virtues could prevail. Life does not have to be divvied up on the basis of hatred. And, we saw in the midst of all the hatred there are courageous, honest people willing to do the right thing. Atticus Finch has always been one of our heroes. Go Set a Watchman took away our hero.
Don’t read this book. Or, at the very least, just read the first half for a little visit with Scout.
Note on the Audiobook: The saving grace of this whole experience was having Reese Witherspoon read the book to me. She did a beautiful job.