by Harper Lee
Series: To Kill a Mockingbird #2
Narrator: Reese Witherspoon
Length: 6 hrs and 57 mins
Genres: Historical Fiction
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
Narration: 4.5 cups
Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014. Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her. Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.
One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird from the characters to the writing. I have re-read it many times and I have always mourned that I could not read more works by Harper Lee. Therefore, when news of Go Set a Watchman spread I knew that I would have to read it. I noticed Reese Witherspoon was narrating the audio edition and decided to listen instead.
Whether you chose to listen or read Go Set a Watchman, I think it is very important to understand this is not a sequel to Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, it is the story that gave birth to it. It was original written in the mid-nineteen fifties and submitted to Lee’s publisher before TKAMB. Her publishers loved the flashbacks of Scout’s childhood and encouraged Lee to write about those events. It is important to remember that although they resemble our Atticus, Scout and Jim that these characters are in fact not them. The book was not edited, and there are a few run on sentences and conversations that would have benefited, but Lee’s voice and style still delighted me.
The story takes place when Jean Louis Finch (Scout) is an adult whose returned home to Maycomb after living in New York. It is an awakening and her struggle with the political and prejudices of this small southern Alabama town. Harper Lee captures that moment when a child sees the flaws in her hero, the man she has set on a pedestal and whose teachings have shaped her whole being.
In Go Set a Watchman Lee highlights the fears and prejudices of this small-town and those of others across the nation through the eyes of Jean Louise, an educated young modern young woman who has seen beyond the town. When Jean returns she sees Maycomb in a new light. While there are aspects she adores but she finds her values and opinions conflicting with those who remained behind.
The flashbacks most resemble TKAMB, and in fact, some scenes made it directly into the book. There are differences in those memories and Go Set a Watchman is certainly a story all of its own. Atticus is portrayed in his seventies and is still practicing law. He is still a respected pillar of the community and in many ways resembles the man I came to love and respect in TKAMB. However, the social and political climate has changed. The tale takes place after the landmark decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education and poor Jean Louise witnesses her father in an act that tarnishes her perception of him and other men whom she held in high esteem.
Harper Lee through Jean Louise voice shares the injustices and temperament of those on the cusps of great change in our nation. She shows us the struggles of accepting change and that even the most progressive, forward thinking, respectable members of society can fall victim to racism and fear. She brilliantly shares Jean’s feelings as her hero(es) fall from the pedestals on which she placed them. I think many of us can relate particularly those in my generations. The way in which I view the world is different from those of my parents and their parent’s particularly on today’s issues of acceptance. While, Go Set a Watchman deals with racism and was written in the fifties, its message is still relevant today as we witness landmark decisions and change.
I am pleased that I was able to read Go Set a Watchman the manuscript that eventually gave birth to my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. I would not classify this as a novel but its beautifully written and a wonderful peek into the making of To Kill A Mockingbird. I am still left mourning that we are no longer able to read more from this brilliant, insightful author whose characters will forever hold a place in my heart.
Reese Witherspoon is a favorite and she delivered as a narrator. Her abilities to express Jean Louise’s anger, frustrations and tone only enhanced my experience and I would listen to her again.