Don’t worry, I’m not going to jump on the PR juggernaut surrounding Harper Lee’s latest (earlier) novel. Nor am I going to engage in the endless conspiracy theories regarding its existence, publication etc.
However, it’s difficult to avoid what has been promoted as the biggest book sensation in recent living memory. ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is set to smash sales records. The publishers are prepared for tomorrow’s look release with nearly 3 million books printed as well as being available on digital format.
So, what’s all the fuss about?
Away from the hype I approached the first free chapter with delight and slight trepidation. Delight as I thoroughly enjoyed and respected ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, even more after reading it again last summer. This time as an adult I found I appreciated the novel much more. However I was anxious the book would disappoint and fall to ridicule. Reading this first chapter I realised my fears were unfounded.
‘Go Set A Watchman’ promises more of the same beautiful prose as ‘Mockingbird’. The deftness of language is retained with its gentle humour, crisp vernacular mingled with deep insightful reflections from the now mature 26-year-old Jean Louise, otherwise famously known as Scout.
The initial striking difference with ‘Mockingbird’ is that this novel is told in the third person. From this first chapter I would say this is not detrimental. I did not find this viewpoint distant or remote, as has been suggested by some critics. Rather it allowed Scout’s maturity and in-depth reasoning to shine forth, whereas ‘Mockingbird’ worked brilliantly written from the first person, capturing her young innocence, confusion and sense of awakening.
The reader joins Scout as she’s travelling by train from New York to her home town Maycomb to visit her ageing father who is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Her laconic observations abound, such as in ‘trains changed, conductors never did’ as yet again the conductor forgets her stop and the train halts 440 yards from the station.
Scout has lost none of her home-town mannerisms as is evident in first her change of clothing to ‘her Maycomb clothes: gray slacks, a black sleeveless blouse, white socks and loafers…’ before adding, ‘she could hear her aunt’s sniff of disapproval’.
She does now though manage to tone down her behaviour as ‘she repressed a tendency to boisterousness’. How far this is true the reader will have to find out later in the book however doubts are raised even in the first chapter as she retorts with harsh honesty to Henry’s marriage discussion: ’I’ll have an affair with you but I won’t marry you’. Even Henry has noticed the change in her, recognising that ‘in the years he was away at war and the University, she had turned from an overalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a a reasonable facsimile of a human being’. Overall, Scout is still ‘a person, who confronted with an easy way out, always took the hard way’.
Finally, am I the only one confused by the title? Frustrated by my ignorance I researched further and I was soon enlightened! The phrase ‘Got Set a Watchman’ comes from Isaiah 21.6. ‘For this hath the Lord said unto me,/Go, set a watchman, let him/declare what he seethe.’
This supposedly alludes to Scout’s view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass (ie. watchman) of Maycomb. (Thank you Wikipdeia!)
I hope you have enjoyed this brief summary of the first chapter of Harper Lee’s latest publication. The final verdict on the novel will of course only be known upon reading the book in its entirety. I will buy it, soon but not quite yet. I don’t feel like be railroaded. I’ll wait for a while…for the paperback! I trust I will be as enlightened and satisfied with the rest of the novel as I was with this opening chapter.
Thank you for reading.
If you want a peak at the first chapter please take a look at http://www.theguardian.com/books/ng-interactive/2015/jul/10/go-set-a-watchman-read-the-first-chapter