- About the Author
- On Active Service
I don’t know why I’d left it so long to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d heard about it for years, I knew it was a good book, people recommended it to me, but I think it was the fact that it was about a rape trial that put me off.
However a few months ago, on the advice of a good friend who said it was “the best book she’d ever read” I finally got round to reading it.
The moment I started reading it I wondered why I had never read it before. It captured me right from the start: the descriptions of the American Deep South, the voice of the narrator, the innocent-yet-adult take on life. I’ve read some reviews that say they found the childhood stories rather too childish and criticise Harper Lee for thinking that an eight-year-old would take an interest in the machinations of the town, but I disagree. To my mind the whole point is that it’s an adult looking back through the eyes of a child. I found it perfectly acceptable. My sole criticism, and it’s a small one, is that the court scene went on far too long.
So, like may other people, I was thrilled when I heard that Go Set A Watchman, a previously undiscovered sequel was being published.
Set 20 years after Mockingbird, Watchman follows Jean-Louise Finch, the grown-up “Scout” , as she returns to her fictional Alabama hometown of Maycomb in the years preceeding the civil rights movement.
It may read like a sequel but it turns out to be a first draft of Mockingbird. Harper Lee submitted it to her editor, Tay Hohoff, who saw the potential of the work but suggested re-drafts and after several years of re-drafting Harper Lee produced the Pulitzer-prize winning Mockingbird.
When Tay Hohoff, received the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman in 1957, she felt, as she later wrote, that ‘there were many things wrong about it’; ‘there were dangling threads of a plot’, but there was enough life in it, and enough wisdom and wit, she said, that ‘the editorial call to duty was plain’.
Reading the book now I find it amazing that anyone ever saw any potential in it at all. The story doesn’t hang together, the characterisation is poor and I only really kept going with it because I felt I should.
I can only agree with Mick Brown of The Telegraph who wrote:
“Go Set a Watchman has interest as a work in progress, the first step to a literary masterpiece. But perhaps it would have been a greater kindness to her reputation, and to the millions who cherish To Kill a Mockingbird, not to have published it at all.”
Bethany Askew is the author of seven novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days, Poppy’s Seed, Three Extraordinary Years and The Two Saras.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Two more women’s fiction books have been accepted for publication in 2020 and 2021 respectively and she is currently working on a new novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.