It is 20 years after Depression-era Maycomb, in the backwaters of Alabama, held its doomed race trial in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Jem is dead of a heart attack; Dill is away in Italy; Atticus Finch has evolved into a small-town bigot who reads pamphlets on “The Black Plague” and regards “our Negro population as backward”.
It is not a finely written story – this reads as a ‘good’ first draft which Lee has refused to rework – yet even in its coarse state where scenes are sketchy, third-person narration shifts haphazardly and leaden lectures on the Southern States’ racial history stand-in for convincing dialogue – it is the more radical, ambitious and politicised of the two novels Lee has now published.
It deals with the scourge of racism in civil rights era America (found in the hearts of otherwise ‘morally upstanding’ individuals like Atticus) whose trajectory can be traced to America’s relationship with its black community today, and to the Charleston shootings. In this sense, it has contemporary relevance where Mockingbird is safely sealed off as a piece of American history, with all the hope its ending brings for Maycomb’s growing racial tolerance.
Go Set A Watchman – book review: A rough draft, but more radical and politicised than Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird – Reviews – Books – The Independent