This entry is part of a blogger-organized blog tour for the book – brainchild of Bill Selnes, masterminded by him and by Margot Kinberg. Make sure you read all the entries – details below.
set in the late 1950s
When she awoke that morning the train was switching and chugging in the Atlanta yards, but in obedience to another sign in her compartment she stayed in bed until College Park flashed by. When she dressed, she put on her Maycomb clothes: gray slacks, a black sleeveless blouse, white socks, and loafers. Although it was four hours away, she could hear her aunt’s sniff of disapproval….
[When she does meet up with her aunt….] Alexandra’s voice cut through her ruminations: “Jean Louise, did you come down on the train Like That?” Caught offside, it took a moment for her to ascertain what her aunt meant by Like That. “Oh— yessum,” she said, “but wait a minute, Aunty. I left New York stockinged, gloved, and shod. I put on these right after we passed Atlanta.”
Her aunt sniffed. “I do wish this time you’d try to dress better while you’re home. Folks in town get the wrong impression of you. They think you are— ah— slumming.”
Jean Louise had a sinking feeling. The Hundred Years’ War had progressed to approximately its twenty-sixth year with no indications of anything more than periods of uneasy truce.
“Aunty,” she said…. “If the folks in Maycomb don’t get one impression, they’ll get another. They’re certainly not used to seeing me dressed up.” Her voice became patient: “Look, if I suddenly sprang on ’em fully clothed they’d say I’d gone New York. Now you come along and say they think I don’t care what they think when I go around in slacks…”
observations: By now most people will have some clues about this book, one of the literary events of the year, and I probably don’t need to tell the story again of how Harper Lee has produced her first book for more than 50 years, and only her second book ever.
There is a lot of discussion and doubt over exactly how this book came to be published, and why, and whether it has been changed much in the many years since it was written. But there has been even more discussion on what it shows about Atticus Finch, father of Jean Louise and an iconic figure in literature. To Kill a Mockingbird told the story through 6-year old Scout’s eyes (she is the Jean Louise above) of a court case in Maycomb Alabama where a black man has been accused of raping a white woman. The case, the book and the words of Atticus have lived on in everybody’s minds. So what a shock to come across a much less perfect Atticus in this book.
I would recommend that you read Margot’s entry on it, here, which (in a spoiler-free way) explains what is going on in Go Set a Watchman. Bill’s review continues the examination of the book, informed by some of his own experiences and knowledge as a lawyer in a rural area.
The book has an uneven structure – stretches of it are very wordy, and not terribly interesting, and then it will come alive with some scene or conversation. You can see it was smart of that long-ago editor to say to Harper Lee ‘go away and write more about your childhood’ – those sections do shine out. Also the heart-rending scene where she goes to see Calpurnia, the housekeeper who raised her: that’s the scene that will live on from this book, with a toughness, reality and sadness that the rest of the book was somewhat lacking.
I liked the picture of southern life. There’s a reference to keeping ‘missionary vanilla’ in the house – this was apparently a euphemism for whiskey (to go in fruitcakes of course) for a TT household. This comes after a rather shocking scene in which one character hits another in a way Lee seems to feel has rough justice, though it reads very badly to modern eyes.
More on changing ways: Jean Louise, thinking she is not suited to marriage, says to herself
But I am not domestic. I don’t even know how to run a cook
Watchman is no Mockingbird, and its interest lies mostly in how Lee got from one book to the other. The discussion of race relations is, I suppose, useful in showing how some people felt at that time, but it is, in the end, even more shocking to us in 2015 than the domestic violence.
Be sure to read the other bloggers’s views on the book….
Picture is from Kristine’s photostream, outfit by legendary American sportswear designer Clare McCardell.
Jean Louise causes scandal by going swimming with a manfriend at night. In fact, they do not get undressed for this adventure, whatever the gossipmongers think, but the scene reminded me of this lovely picture from the Library of Congress, which I have long wanted to use on the blog, taken near a swimming hole in Louisiana in the 1940s.
The blog tour started at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… on Thursday, 23 July.
Friday, 24 July – It’s all aboard for Canada, as the tour stops at Bill’s blog, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.
Saturday, 25 July – The tour hits the UK here at Clothes in Books.
Thursday, 30 July – The tour moves along to India, and a stop at Coffee Rings Everywhere.
Friday, 31 July – It’s back to the USA with a stop at Sue Coletta’s Crime Writer blog.