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Friday, February 17, 2017

GO SET a WATCHMAN (audiobook) by Harper Lee

Published in 2015 by HarperAudio in 2015
Read by Reese Witherspoon.
Duration: 6 hours, 57 minutes

I waited for a while to take a chance with Go Set a Watchman. The blowback when it was released was formidable, so I decided to let it sit for a while and in the meantime stop reading the reviews.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

This book is set about 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, in the 1950s. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) has come home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City for a long visit. 

When she first arrives she falls into the familiar rhythms of a small town where she seems to know most everyone. She rekindles a romance with her father's young protege and soon enough returns to scandalizing her aunt with her forward ways. Atticus Finch has become a physically frailer man, but his mind is still spry.

Harper Lee (1926-2016)
Everything about the trip seems to be going well until Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet among some papers of Atticus. She decides that she simply must sneak into a meeting of the Citizens' Council - a group of white men who are concerned about the NAACP and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

The meeting is in the same courtroom where Atticus Finch defended Tom Robinson and Jean Louise sneaks into the balcony to watch her father, just like she did in To Kill a Mockingbird. In that novel she saw her father do his best to defend a black man in a town that already knew his client was guilty.

In Go Set a Watchman, she sees her father and her serious boyfriend colluding with men who spout racist nonsense. She sees the hero fall - and fall hard.

Jean Louise's reaction was amazingly similar to my own as I listened to an icon of American literature debase himself - shock and disbelief. In my case, I knew it was coming, but I still hoped that maybe it had been exaggerated.

Everything seems to be falling apart around Jean Louise. She flees to her childhood home only to find it has been torn down and replaced by an ice cream stand. Calpurnia, the only mother figure she has ever known, rejects her. Her childhood is gone, her hero is gone and she is totally alone.

Clearly, there is a large bit of autobiography in this book - every bit as much as there was in To Kill a Mockingbird. One can easily imagine a young Harper Lee taking a similar trip back to Alabama and struggling with two versions of her hometown - the idealized version that she remembered from her childhood and the reality that falls short once she looks upon it with the eyes of an outsider.

Despite it all, I found myself enjoying this book. It is, in many ways, a more mature book than To Kill a Mockingbird. That being said, it is certainly not a stand-alone novel. You must read To Kill a Mockingbird before you read this book.

Reese Witherspoon read this audiobook and her lovely voice was an excellent choice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

See my review of To Kill a Mockingbird here.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

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