For the first time in as long as I can remember, I find myself faced with a book hangover. I finished reading Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee 3 days ago, and despite the fact that I am a quarter of the way through A Feast for Crows (I started reading it before GSaW came out and took a break from it), I cannot effectively recover enough to continue reading.
People have asked me if Go Set a Watchman was “good”, and I find myself unable to qualify an answer. It’s easy to see why To Kill a Mockingbird was written and published instead of the original manuscript of Go Set a Watchman. The characters of GSaW are so rich and vibrant that you want to know their history. If you had never read TKaM, it would feel as if you were dropped into a passing chapter of Scout’s life with no understanding of who she actually is and why she grew up to be that way. While GSaW does flash back to her childhood, it is a mere shadow of the relationship you develop with her by reading TKaM. That being said, the writing is brilliant.
I was immediately charmed by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch's narrative of riding the train from New York to Maycomb, Alabama. Despite being technologically challenged, she was fascinated by the novelty of the buttons and knobs in her roomette that revealed a sink, called the porter, or opened up her bed from the wall; that is until she found herself folded into the wall when she decided to go to bed the night before. She was at the mercy of the train porter to release her from her predicament, her embarrassment amplified by the fact she was only clad in her pajama top for bed.
The book continues, and I am consistently captivated by Jean Louise's sense of humor and nostalgia from her visit to her childhood home. Her raw honesty and integrity are give her a Holden Caulfield-esque presence, but Scout is able to deal with crisis in a more confrontational manner. Harper Lee is able to convey Scout’s excitement to be home, her apprehension of the future, and her hollow sadness impending loss. With her brother Jem’s sudden passing years before and Atticus’ failing health, Scout's state of mind is both genuine and relatable.
The major conflict in the book is Scout finds out Atticus and her sometimes fiancé and childhood friend, Henry, are part of a pro-segregation council. This comes as a shock to Scout (and lets be honest, every reader who has ever admired Atticus Finch), because her entire life, she considered Atticus to be just like her; colorblind to the racial differences between black and white.
This book wasn't about debating the issue of segregation or pointing out the morality flaws of the southern states. It was ultimately about Scout's coming of age into adulthood. She had considered Atticus to be her conscience without actively realizing it, and when he participated in something she completely abhorred, she had a immediate self identity crisis. The turning point in the book is when she confronts Atticus with his hypocrisy, and determines that her home will never be in Maycomb, Alabama.
While there were so many quotes from the book that I enjoyed, my favorite quote is from when Scout discusses her impression of what Hell was when she was a kid.
"Hell was and would always be as far as she was concerned, a lake of fire exactly the size of Maycomb, Alabama, surrounded by a brick wall two hundred feet high. Sinners were pitchforked over this wall by Satan, and they simmered throughout eternity in a sort of broth of liquid sulfer."
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I relished the ability to learn more about my favorite characters, as well as getting to know Scout as a girl that's (close) to the same age as myself. While Atticus doesn't behave in the same way we expect him to after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, it is reassuring to know that even our favorite fictional characters have flaws and that's okay. I think that I am not alone in wishing Harper Lee had another manuscript hiding in the attic because her ability to bring a character alive is nothing short of magical.
Disclosure: I do receive compensation for the links provided, but it does not influence my reviews, or the books I choose to read. All thoughts and opinions are my own.