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Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee


"There was a time, long ago, when the only peaceful moments of her existence were those from the time she opened her eyes in the morning until she attained full consciousness, a matter of seconds until when finally roused she entered the day's wakeful nightmare."

The 'she' is Scout, of course. The argument she presents above is a reflection of what Go Set A Watchman is all about. This Harper Lee work - which was penned even before To Kill A Mockingbird - bears only a vague resemblance to the book that won her the Pulitzer. It holds its own ground, story-wise; though the knowledge of the chronology of its creation adds to the understanding of Mockingbird

Jean Louise Finch is now 26, living it up in New York, with a heart full of ideals and steadfastness, sown over her childhood spent in the mundane town of Maycomb, Alabama. The town hasn't really changed much, maintaining its volatile balance between appropriateness and crudeness. Not that it matters to Scout; her father Atticus - the most loved dad in the literary universe - holds the lantern for her. As does his apprentice and Scout's sweetheart Henry Clinton. Her Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack continue to display their respective characteristics of priggishness and geeky-eccentricities respectively. Things do not seem to have moved an inch. The order in Scout's mind is however, shattered one day when she witnesses a distinctly inexplicable scene, which leads her t question her faith and her very essence of morality. 

So in a nutshell, Go Set A Watchman  is basically a coming-of-age story. And Scout does come of age with a bang, which is so Scout ! 

This book is heavy on dialogues and arguments, and takes considerable attention to appreciate fully. Unlike Mockingbird - which also leaned on the apparent simplistic description of children playing, Watchman is a far more serious discourse. Strangely enough, in hindsight, the content of the discourse does not seem pivotal to the crux of the story. There are not an awful number of layers to the story, not too many characters either (in fact, a couple of my favourites are missing <sob>), but just an honest, clean attempt at exhibiting how the childhood learnings begin to get complicated as we grow older, and mostly, how difficult it is to submit to that realisation. Understandably, such is the weight of the ambition of the story, it is hardly surprising that the fun/light moments are limited in the book. 

That is not to say that I didn't enjoy reading it - though I admit it was very difficult to stop myself from comparing it with Mockingbird; there is quite a stretch on the good, ol' days of Jem, Scout and Dill messing around as kids, and that is an absolute delight to read about. Uncle Jack features in a big way in this story - and his witty, abstruse statements are well worth re-reads (so that you can apply the same in a situation without offending the victims, like "...we're all of us going to hell, it's just a question of time..."). Maycomb itself is the third best thing about the story. In little patches of descriptions, Lee brings out the portrait of a little, intellectually land-locked town, whose population aren't a bad sort really. The opening descriptions of the town is stark and warm alike, and as Sada said "People are by and large a product of where they were born and raised. How you think and feel's always linked to the lie of the land, the temperature. The prevailing winds, even", so it is with Maycomb. 

Those looking deliberately for a continuity of Mockingbird, be fairly warned. It might not just add up to the same level of depth. Watchman stands alone as a thought-provoking work, which uses the controversy of racial inequality merely as a backdrop for establishing a more intimate point on growing up. Which is admittedly, hard. 

The only character I was a bit disappointed with was Henry. He showed promise, but probably not enough to hold down a firecracker like Scout. And I so wished he would be the calming wind, smothering the flames of the Maycomb girl. He appears calming all right, but maybe a bit too much so for his own good. While the story also leaves open-ended the question of Scout and Henry getting together, I do hope both characters undergo some moderation (read: grow up) before they settle together for good. 

Above all, Maycomb - with all its blemishes and quirks, has been a part of our own childhoods. We have lived in it, played on it streets, cringed at Mrs. Dubose and witnessed the ignominy of the Trial; it is only fair that we own up to our roots, just like Scout had to. Maycomb is not a town; it is the collective conscience of our forefathers. And no one could have brought about this realisation with as much cussing as Harper Lee. 

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