Thursday, July 23, 2015

'Go Set a Watchman' gives Harper Lee's fans much to think about

Harper Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman,” was officially released Tuesday of last week, and like over 1.1 million people during the past week, I bought a copy to see what all the fuss is about. At 288 pages long, the book is a quick read, and I finished it over the weekend.

I thought the book was great, and in some ways, it’s better than Lee’s first novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Watchman” is funny in parts, surprising in parts and will definitely give fans of her first novel much to think about.

Readers in Conecuh County might find “Watchman” interesting because Evergreen is mentioned right out of the gate. The novel begins with the main character, Jean Louise Finch, aboard a train, traveling south on her annual trip home from New York City to the fictional town of Maycomb, Ala. Evergreen and Greenville are both mentioned early on as towns that she has to pass through to get to Maycomb Station.

Maycomb Station is not to be confused with Maycomb, which most would agree is based on Monroeville. The novel indicates that Maycomb Station is located 20 or so miles from Maycomb, and reading between the lines, it makes me think of Repton.

Also, in several places throughout the novel, the characters make reference to Maycomb County’s neighboring county, Abbott County. Again, reading between the lines, Abbott County appears to be either Clarke County or Conecuh County. Based on geographical clues, I’d lean toward Abbott County being a reference to Clarke County.

I’ve been a fan of “Mockingbird” for a long time, and I especially enjoyed “Watchman” because, through flashbacks, Lee gives us more information about what happened later to Scout, her brother Jem and their friend, “Dill,” aka Charles Baker Harris. These flashback scenes give readers more insight into their childish adventures and the results.

There are also scenes within “Watchman” that seem to parallel famous scenes from “Mockingbird.” In one of the most dramatic scenes in “Watchman,” Jean Louis Finch, who is now in her twenties, takes the same balcony seat from which she watched Atticus represent the ill-fated Tom Robinson during his unfair trial. However, in “Watchman,” Jean Louise watches Atticus, in the same courtroom, take part in a controversial meeting of the local Citizens Council, which becomes a major turning point in her life and in the novel.

In my opinion, “Watchman” is also a much deeper book than “Mockingbird.” In “Mockingbird,” things are obviously black and white, cut and dry, good and bad, just and unjust. However, “Watchman” is much more realistic and true to life because it forces readers to remember that real life is almost never this way. Good people don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. Outside forces, the passage of time and life experiences can change people for the better and worse, and “Watchman” shows you this and makes you think about it.

In the end, I highly recommend “Go Set a Watchman” to those of you in the audience who haven’t read it yet. I believe that this novel will eventually be considered a classic, and I won’t be surprised if it wins a National Book Award or even a Pulitzer Prize the next time those are given out. With that said, first chance you get, pick up a copy and see what all the fuss is about.

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