Go Set a Watchman

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee 
I just want to start by saying I intentionally avoided articles and reviews of the book that came out before I had a chance to read it. There was way too much talk swirling around this book and I wanted to go into it without any preconceived notions. I actually tried to read it slowly, but it's not long and it's hard to put down. I was so nervous that it would be a disappointment and I'm so glad it wasn't!

Written before To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman is actually set after it. Scout is now in her 20s and living in New York City. She returns home to visit her family to find that not everything is how she left it. I don't want to compare Lee's two books, I think this one stands on its own. But I do love the style of writing that's prevalent in both, it's Harper Lee all over. You fall in love with the characters, particularly Atticus' brother Dr. Finch, who loves Victorian literature. You meet Jean Louise, not as the tomboy Scout, but as a 26-year-old woman who still trying to figure out who she is.

There are shades of The Help in this book. A girl returns to her Southern roots to find that her friends and some of her family members seem racist in light of her new education and experiences. But Go Set a Watchman's focus is more on how Jean Louise reacts to this than it is about the issue itself. I think this is particularly true when you think about the fact that this was written in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, not in retrospect when we already knew the outcome.

Honestly, I think the story is timeless because the issue itself is interchangeable. If it was written in the early 1900s it might have been about women's suffrage, if it was written today it might have been about gay marriage. The issue is what was being dealt with at that time. The story is about the people it affected and the hard truths you face when you grow up and realize your parents are human beings and have their own flaws.  

It's something most twenty-somethings go through, but it's never easy, especially for someone who has a parent like Atticus who is easy to place on a pedestal. Seeing your parents as real people for the first time is so hard. It's important to think about the context of their lives and the way they were raised when considering their actions. It doesn't justify their actions or beliefs, but it can help you understand them. Giving some context and perspective to their world is so crucial in understanding the people around us, flawed as they may be.

What I love the most is throughout the book everything so personal. We flashback to Jean Louise's childhood. There are glimpses of the To Kill a Mockingbird days and Dill. We see her as an awkward teen, misunderstanding things like pregnancy and periods. We even learn a bit more about Atticus' family history and his relationship with his deceased wife.  

Family provides the eternal conundrum. We love them so deeply, they are a part of us, but that doesn't mean we always hold to the same beliefs. It's the respect that we have for each other that keeps us close.  

BOTTOM LINE: I'm still processing the book and it's one that I'm sure I'll return to again in the future. It's not an easy book to think about, because it forces you to look at your own heroes and wonder about their flaws and how that changes your relationship with them. I really loved it though. The writing, the characters, the frank struggle, self-righteous indignation that it's so easy to feel when you're young. There was such a wonderful balance of nostalgia and new meat of a story. It was all that I was hoping and more.  

"She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him."

"Love's the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There different kinds of love, certainly, but it's a you-do or you-don't proposition with them all."

"Any reference to her personal eccentricities, even from Henry, made her shy."

"She had never seen a shelter that reflected so strongly the personality of its owner. An eerie quality of untidiness prevailed amid order: Dr. Finch kept his house militarily spotless, the bookstand to pileup wherever he sat down."

"As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he'll look for his lessons."

"The only thing in America that is still unique in this tired world is that a man can go as far as his brains will take him or he can go to hell if he wants to."

"Remember this also: it's always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years, it is hard to see what we are."

"He was the only person she ever knew who could paraphrase three authors into one sentence and have them all makes sense."


Kay said...

Yours is one of the first reviews I've read. I'm going to hold off for a bit, but I enjoyed hearing your thoughts about this new book. Love the quotes.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Yours is the first review I've read as well and so glad to see you enjoyed it. Nice review Melissa.

Brona said...

I've had so many discussions about GSAW this week at work, I knew it would be impossible for me to avoid spoilers and reviews and other people's opinions - it's the one hazard of the job (that and nasty paper cuts!!)

I will have to read this down the track when some of the dust has settled, but most of the reviews I've gravitated to have stressed the father/daughter relationship. This appeals to me and your review has given me heart - thank you :-)

Anonymous said...

I think we're basically on the same page, here. I also avoided reviews (and I actually read the book twice before writing about it - I got it early, read it without saying anything & then read it again when it officially released).

There were problems, but I love Lee's style & the coming-into-adulthood aspect of this one is so real.

thecuecard said...

So glad to hear it's not a disappointment! I plan to read it in a while since I just reread TKAM. But I'm glad you liked it, makes me more positive about reading it. Cheers.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kay - There were so many lines that stood out to me!

Diane - Thanks! I was glad I got some of my thoughts in writing before reading anyone else's reviews.

Brona - I will be excited to hear what you think of it when you read it. I knew I either wanted to wait for the hype to settle or read it immediately before I heard too much about it. Luckily I had the chance to finish it before the internet exploded with chatter.

roofbeamreader - I love that you got to read it twice! I already want to read it again to process some of the stuff. It felt like it just flew by.

thecuecard - Enjoy it, but try not to compare the two books. I think people who just want a sequel will be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you liked it. I'm still waffling back and forth on whether I want to read this one. I almost feel like it's my "responsibility" as a book blogger to be conversant with it, so I guess maybe I will. :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - Definitely don't feel like you have to read it. There's so much hype around it right now. I don't blame anyone for waiting to read it.