- 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 five novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days and Poppy’s Seed.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Future projects include a new short story, this one for the young adult market, and another full-length novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.