Saturday, August 1, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

When I first read the release about a new book, based on a heretofore unknown manuscript from the great author, Harper Lee, was being published, I was intrigued.  Later when it was revealed this story was a continuation of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird I was concerned. What would this one do to my favorite novel? Would the new story diminish the original or would it enhance the first novel? Don't mess with one of my favorite books.

I hesitated before buying it.  Of course I couldn't hold out for long, I downloaded it and devoured it. The publishing of this novel was delayed by concerns this might not be the work of Ms. Lee. She is an elderly recluse these days. But once the origin was verified, the book was published and debuted to stellar sales.

Upon reading it, I realized this is indeed the work of Harper Lee.  No one has the writing style in the English language with a deep-south accent like Ms. Lee. Her prose is as distinctive as it is lyrical.  She pens even ugly scenes with beautiful language.

Go Set a Watchman is the sequel to her previous novel.  In this one, young Scout, now called by her given name, Jean Louise, is a woman. She left Maycomb, Alabama years before and escaped to Manhattan, living a very different life from her peers at home. She visits home on an annual basis.  The book begins with her journey back to see her family.

While she still worships her father, the memorable Atticus Finch, her relationships with other family members are more ambivalent.

SPOILER ALERT - Sadly her brother Jem is not a character in this one except in the scenes from their childhood interjected into the story.  He inherited their mother's heart disease and died in his 20s. Childhood friend Dill is an expatriate living in Italy.

It is the beginning of the civil rights era in the novel.  Jean Louise is an adamant supporter of equal rights for all which brings her into conflict with those she loves.

Even Atticus is singed by the events, his own beliefs, and the passage of time.  Since I don't want to spoil the story for you, I will say no more on the subject.

This book will grab your interest and play on your emotions.  I laughed aloud reading some of the scenes from Scout's childhood and wept while reading some of the scenes about Jean Louise, the woman.

It is a shame for us all Ms. Lee only published two books.  She is an amazing writer compelling the reader to follow her story and live through the emotional turmoil of her characters.

Side note: A couple of years before he passed away, Gregory Peck toured the country with a one-man show which was really him talking to the audience about his life and career.  I was privileged to attend a performance in Austin, Texas. He spent considerable time on the subject of  "To Kill a Mockingbird," the film, in which he played Atticus Finch. He also won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal, while the film won Best Picture.

At the time, he said he still got weekly mail from school students all over the country, who studied the book and watched the film in class.  He said Atticus was the finest role he ever played and his favorite.  He said the story was such an excellent teaching tool which is still relevant in 21st century America. I agree with him. I sometimes think in our fast-paced Internet world, we focus on easy quick relationships with each other, often missing the rich experience other people bring to our lives. We lose compassion in our gigabyte world and understanding of each other.  We are becoming more of a world of  "us" vs. "them." Don't agree? Watch the news.

He said Mary Badham, the child actress who played Scout in the movie, was so influenced by the story she grew up and went to law school.  At the time I saw him, she still  practiced law.

Go Set a Watchman is a fitting sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Read it, you will be enriched for the experience.

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