Skip to main content

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. 


Popular posts from this blog

Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 
Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 
Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such w…

Higginbothams of Ooty

It took us some time to decipher that the name of the crossroad was Charing Cross. After all, it is an unexpected name for an Indian crossroad in Tamil Nadu, and the mildly opinionated chap driving us to our hotel had a heavy accent. Charing Cross turned out to be a triangular enclosure, with an imposing fountain (we later discovered that it was named the Adam's Fountain; it is three-tiered, the second one topped by four very colourful cherubs). Since we had arrived in the middle of the afternoon in the thick of winter, the roads were thronging with people and vehicles. Shops were bustling and business appeared brisk. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic as we passed woollens shops, gift houses, eateries, groceries and mobile-phone shops. 
We returned to the market later in the evening, after having deposited our luggage. Both my husband and I had been fending off a nasty bout of flu and needed to restock our now near-empty medicine pouch. Charing Cross in the evening (thi…

Top 10 books to read when you are depressed

Books are handy weapons to stave off blues - be it the dregs of the Sunday evening or a nasty bout of flu. When you are depressed, it takes herculean efforts to shake off the feeling. And I'm not even talking about the more severe, clinical form of depression. I can't get myself to pour myself a glass of water the day after Diwali; on Fridays on the other hand, I am the epitome of eternal sunshine. For such moody, dull days, these top 10 books are the surest way to dust a little sparkle in your life.
1) Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog): This is Jerome K. Jerome at his absolute best. It was published some 130 years back and is still capable of eliciting raucous laughter. It is the honest journal of three young, bumbling flatmates and their dog on a river cruise. Look out for some meandering, pedantic pages, but they offer some relief from the relentless humour. 
2) James Herriot'sDog Stories: If you love animals (and dogs, in particular), this is the ultimate…