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Go Set a Watchman will upset To Kill a Mockingbird fans

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This book will – and already is – upsetting people. And it’s clear to see why. Before I go into this, can I just put out a word of warning: this article will contain spoilers and go into details of the plot of Go Set a Watchman and Harper Lee’s original novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you haven’t read either of these two books and don’t want to read things about the plots and various twists and turns, please go back onto Facebook and continue to stalk that person in your lecture you think you might fancy (or better still, go and read the books).

For those who already know what happens or don’t mind the odd spoiler, please continue reading.

Atticus is revealed as a racist. This apparent character U-turn has been widely publicised, in some cases (rather unfairly) in the headlines of articles. It is a shock to discover that someone who was once a sort-of white knight for decency and fairness is now attending KKK meetings and sitting on boards that function as hate groups.

Scout has grown up into a headstrong 26-year-old woman who is understandably appalled when she discovers her father’s true colours. And, to really kick the reader in the teeth, her lovely brother Jem is dead.

In my opinion, this work is not a classic in the making nor a particularly brilliant novel, though such a judgement is fraught with problems.

To start, there is the unusual way the book has been brought to light. Apparently Ms Lee wrote this first, was then advised to expand flashback sequences into what became To Kill a Mockingbird, then shelved the rest of the book.

What we have here is apparently the rest of the book. Therefore it’s important to think of this as part of a much bigger story rather than the sequel to one that came before it. The only way to reconcile this would have been to cut and paste the work together into form that resembled how Lee originally intended, though this in itself would go against the author’s wishes and much of Mockingbird was reportedly revised in order to work as a novel in its own right.

Judging a work like this is difficult, particularly with all the (justified) hype surrounding the release. I doubt the public will be getting what they thought they were getting when they settle down to rejoin Scout and her family in Macomb. I’m not entirely what Go Set a Watchman is, but it is no match for the book with which it is inevitably tied to.

Go Set a Watchman is out now, published in the UK by Penguin Random House.     




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