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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

We have gathered all the fantastic reviews our Book Club Members have sent us this month.

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Fay Clark

At two years old, Jean Louise Finch (“Scout”) lost her mother, and had been raised by her lawyer father, Atticus Finch, aided by Calpurnia, their African-American housekeeper. Scout idolized her father. Atticus had “integrity, humour and patience”. Scout had grown up “colour blind” – without prejudice. Scout returned from New York to Maycomb, Alabama to visit, and discovered that all was not as she had believed. She was shocked that her father, and her suitor, Henry Clinton, her father’s junior partner, had joined the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, and that Atticus had previously joined the Klu Klux Klan– “when the Klan was respectable, like the Masons”. He now seemed to believe that the South was not ready for complete equality of races. Calpurnia now also wished to have little to do with ‘white folks”. She immediately decided to cut her ties with them and return to New York. Uncle Jack advised that Atticus had attended meetings in order to limit the harm they could do, and he persuaded her that she should stay and fight for their beliefs. I thoroughly enjoyed Watchman which examines the values of the time.

Ann Livings

This book was written before the classic To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM) and is set 20 years after it and this is important to realise when reading it. The writing is more uneven and stilted and characters and plot less well developed and it would be easy to class it as inferior to the second novel. However, it gives an interesting insight into small town life in the Deep South in the years before the Civil Rights movement, with the struggles and prejudice faced by the different layers of society. On page 109 is the reference to the court case which is central to TKAM. There is an overall feeling of disillusionment in this novel, typified by Jean Louise's relationship with her father, Atticus. He is seen here as a bigoted and maybe racist man, who has lost his early idealism and fervour for justice. Jean Louise struggles with this sense of change and loss, coming to terms with her roots, eventually coming to an acceptance of society as it is and in doing so, experiences her own coming of age. It is worth reading as an interesting insight into the evolution of American Society.

Sheila McCullough

When Viking sent me “Go set a watchman” to review, they also sent Harper Lee’s previous novel “To kill a mocking bird”. I thought I should reread that first before going on to the new book. Anyone aged 70 or under in the UK will have read “To kill a mocking bird” as a school set text. I remembered it as a brilliant book and I was not disappointed when I read it again. It tackles the issues of racial prejudice in the United States in the 1930s very sensitively through the eyes of a young girl, Scout, whose father is the lawyer defending a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. A wonderful book. “Go set a watchman” seems to have two distinct parts. The first half of the book reintroduces us to the characters with wonderful thumbnail sketches. It is interesting to see how Scout of the first book has matured to become Jean Louise of the second. Harper Lee’s writing style continues to delight. The second half of the book is less easy reading. It confronts the racism of the 1930s, nowhere near as overt as the 1930s but still unacceptable. We see Jean Louise confronting and coming to terms with the fact that her father is not the God she once saw him to be but in certain respects has feet of clay. “Go set a watchman” is well worth reading, even if it is not of the same standard as the Pulitzer Prize winning “To kill a mocking bird.”

Julie Hogg

Thank you very much for sending me a copy of Go Set a Watchman to review. My comments are as follows: By the time I had finished reading Go Set a Watchman, I was really unsure about how I felt about it. At times I found it hard to follow, more so than To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read first. It seemed a long time before I realised that Scout’s views of her father, from holding him in very high esteem to then branding him racist, changed, partly I guess during her growing up but also influenced by her years spent in a big city. It seemed to take a long while to get there. It set me to thinking, do our views of our own parents change in similar ways once we experience life? I also noticed that Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in the first person but Go Set a Watchman was written in the third person. Was there any significance in this? I always think a book written in the first person conveys stronger feelings. Overall, it was not a book that I enthused over, despite the publicity given to it in the media.

Margaret Harrison

When twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch returns to her childhood home in Maycomb County, little seems to have changed since she left to pursue her adult life in New York. However it takes but a few days for her to realise that her enlightened, colour-blind attitude to life is not shared by everyone, including her beloved father. In the American Deep South, the 1950's were a time of struggle for black Americans. Jean Louise is forced to examine her own beliefs in the context of racial inequality and the fight for equal rights for all.

Bev Duffy

Having read To Kill A Mocking Bird, I was really looking forward to reading this book. I was unfortunately rather disappointed with it and am certainly glad to say that I had already read To Kill A Mocking Bird or I may well have been put off reading it. The novel is certainly not on the same level. Don’t let this put you off reading the book but I feel it is essential to read To Kill A Mocking Bird first, to help set the scene for episodes in this book. Jean Louise (Scout) returns to Maycomb for a summer holiday and is affected by the tension surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. Her beliefs set up in childhood are brought into question and I feel she portrays rather selfish attitudes towards her family and birth place; not realising that the world naturally changes and as a result people change to protect themselves against tensions and issues affecting their lives. She shows lack of understanding for the issues surrounding Southern America and appears very judgemental. I did still enjoy this book and would recommend it as a holiday read, but please read To Kill A Mocking Bird first.

Judith Dickinson

Jean Louise Finch has left her family home in America's Deep South for a new life in New York City. Returning home for her annual visit to her aged father, Atticus, is always a return to the simple, predictable life she grew up with. Her family, the neighbourhood, nothing ever changes. Or does it? Set in the mid-1950s this story is very much centred around the racial issues of the time, through Jean Louise's awakening to the darker reaches of her previously shatterproof family values. Although the narrative is in the third person the central characters seem well known to the speaker. Jean Louise's childhood memories vividly illuminate the storyline, effectively linking the past with the present. Now 26 years old she finds everything she held fast to is crumbling. She rapidly becomes aware of the racial inequalities in her home town of Maycomb and the way in which the townspeople are taking steps to safeguard their status quo. Why was she never conscious of this while growing up? Where will it all lead? Although linked with 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Harper Lee has written this as a stand-alone novel. A deeply captivating read. Highly recommended.