Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Harper Lee

Harper Lee wrote one of my favourite books.  Published in 1960, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is widely regarded as a classic and rightly so.  I first read it at school as a teenager, it moved my ignorant self back then and it was every bit as wonderful when I read it again last year.

For some reason Harper Lee never followed Mockingbird with another book, apparently saying she'd said all she had to say in her debut novel.  Perhaps she feared ruining the legacy of this book either by accident or design?  However last year we finally saw the release of "Go Set a Watchman", a sequel to Mockingbird.

Scout is now known by her given name, Jean Louise.  She is a graduate now living in New York and has reached the ripe old age of 26 years old.  The story begins with her returning to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her home and family.  We reacquaint ourselves with this familiar town and many much loved characters.  Atticus is unchanged in character but affected by age, he will always be Gregory Peck in my minds eye.  There is a shock when we discover one major character is no longer part of the story.

The civil rights movement is in its early days of making headlines and what the south would term trouble.  This is the world that Jean Louise is re-entering, she is struggling to come to terms with her home town which if anything seems more racist and divided than ever.

Large passages of the book flash back to the more innocent times when Scout, Jem and Dill would rum amok in childish fantasy.  We also learn a little about Scout growing up and becoming Jean Louise.  It seems the novel is padded out by this a little but this is welcome.  Returning to the books present, the story is very much about racism and the older Jean Louise seeing her little home town through enlightened, adult eyes.

Towards the end of the story it threatens to shatter the world of Mockingbird forever and as a reader I am fearful of this.  Reading the final pages I literally choked back tears.  Go set a Watchman will never rival Mockingbird but it is a very good book in its own right.

I was half way through reading when I heard that Harper Lee had passed away at the age of 89.  Her place in literary history is assured.  Watchman has an open ending and I wonder if there will be another, posthumous installment of the Finch story?  I hope so.

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