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Sunday, August 23, 2015


A compelling and enjoyable read that deserves to be reviewed in its own right. (Review by Keith Millar)

Let me say at the outset that I felt that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was, in its own right, a compelling but rather ponderous story which was ultimately a rather enjoyable read.

Whether it merits the hysteria and hype which accompanied its publication in July when it was touted as a successor, or sequel, to Harper Lee’s famous To Kill a Mockingbird is another question entirely. The report (or is it just an urban legend?) suggests that Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first, and submitted to a publisher. They didn’t consider it worthy of publishing but liked a few elements from the narrative and asked her to develop these into a new story.

This led a few years later to the publication of renowned and beloved novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. This was her only book until the recent, rather mysterious, re-discovery and subsequent publication of Go Set a Watchman.

The elements mentioned, such as the childhood antics of the main character Jean Louise (Scout in Mockingbird) and her brother Jem, the defence of a young black man accused of the rape of a white girl by their father, the highly principled lawyer Atticus, and not the least, the racial tensions prevelant in the American Southern States at that time, are all present as flashbacks in Go Set a Watchman.

Many of the memorable characters are also present in the new (or is it old?) story.The imaginative descriptions by the author also evoke a similar ambience of small town America, and the mood of racial disquiet.

However, in my opinion that is where the similarity ends. Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel, prequel or continuation of the To Kill a Mockingbird story. To claim it is, is a regrettable marketing ploy which has resulted in unprecedented sales and best seller status for a book which does not quite deserve it.

Having said that, I repeat my observation that it is a compelling and enjoyable read. As such, it deserves to be reviewed in its own right.

The story is set in the mid 1950’s, 20 years on from the time of To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout, or Jean Louise, as she is now mostly referred to, has been living in New York for several years. She returns to her hometown of Maycomb to visit her ageing father, Atticus, and Henry, the man who may become her husband. Nothing much has changed in Maycomb, It is still a sleepy country town and, worst of all, racial tensions are still prevalent.

Jean Louise is a feisty, outspoken young lady with a mind of her own. She finds it difficult to fit into Maycomb society which is steeped in old-fashioned, conventional standards. Then she discovers that both Atticus and Henry have feet of clay and - far from being liberal men of integrity she believed they were - both harbour right wing racialistic tendencies. She is particularly shocked by her father, a man who she idolised as the epitome of all that was good and just in the world. She is forced to grapple with many issues both personal and political as she moves on with her life.

To Set a Watchman is a bit of a conundrum. At times it feels as if one is reading a blueprint for another story to follow. On the other hand some of the characters are not fully formed and one only has a better understanding of them because of having read Mockingbird.

However, it is a worthy story which offers a range of ideological issues for the reader to ponder, as well as discussing the subject of racial prejudice which still echoes strongly in our world today.

To Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is published by William Heinemann. ISBN 9781785150289. – Keith Millar