Go Set a Watchman – blog tour

Watchman Tour Shirt

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.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

published 2015

set in the late 1950s

Go Set a Watchman 1

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

-- which amused me no end.

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.

Swimming post

The blog tour started at Confessions of a Mystery Noveliston 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.


  1. Fantastic review, Moira - thoughtful and candid. And you're right: it's not ...Mockingbird. Still, as you say, it presents a fine picture of life in a small Southern town at that time. Like you, I thought the scene with Calpurnia was brilliant. So is the discussion Jean Louise has with Henry Clinton about why he ffeels the need to 'go along to get along.' There are a few funny scenes, too. But it's not even and smooth the way ...Mockingbird is. Still, it's a strong depiction of having to give up one's illusions.

    1. That's a great summary of the bones of the book Margot - and I found your own review (link above) really helpful in sorting out my ideas on the book.

    2. It just occurred to me *embarrassed blush* that I forgot to thank you for the kind mention, Moira. I am very grateful, even my manners were missing...

    3. No need at all to apologize Margot! And I was delighted to be able to recommend your marvellous review.

  2. Moira, whether I like this book or not, MOCKINGBIRD will have the moral high ground and a permanent place among legendary books. However, I'm not in a hurry to read WATCHMAN.

    1. Prashant, nothing about Watchman can change the way we all feel about Mockingbird I think. And you have your blogging friends to read the new book for you, so you don't have to till you're ready....

  3. Having read the first three reviews in this blog tour, I can now understand more why this book would have been rejected on a basis of subject matter if it truly was the same book in 1960 (when Mockingbird came out). It would have been a touchy subject at that time, I am sure. Even in the early 70s when I was living in a college town, that environment would have been the only one where such views would be welcomed in Alabama (only my opinion). When I was dating my first husband in the late 60s, we attended a service at a Unitarian church in Birmingham, AL, once because black people attended and that was a big deal. Unimaginable.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your evaluation also because it included the extract and I could get a feel for the writing. I can see that this one will cause me some of the same problems personally when I read it as Mockingbird did, and it will be interesting to make comparisons.

    1. It is so interesting to hear your memories of that time, Tracy, and I hope you might share more with us on your blog if you do read the book...

  4. Moira: I appreciated you brought another perspective to Go Set a Watchman. Jean Louise may be colour blind but she is also elitist.

    I loved the photo of the young woman. It fits exactly my image of what Jean Louise put on after the train left Atlanta. I wish the publisher had created a picture of such a young woman and put it on the cover rather than the rather plain unappealing cover with a train that was sold in Canada.

    While very stylish I expect Jean Louise knew her clothes would be provocative to far more than just Aunt Alexandra.

    I have no idea how stylish Harper Lee was in her personal life.

    1. Thanks, I'm glad you liked her outfit, it did seem to fit the description. Although I do think the book would receive no attention in its own right, it is only Mockingbird that makes it interesting - it still has provoked some fascinating discussion.

  5. Many readers and reviewers in the U.S. have been very upset about the publication of Watchman. Letters and op-eds and articles have flown around print and online media and blogs. The New Yorker writer questioned if the book should ever have been published and why it should not have.
    Joe Nocera, writing in the July 25 New York Times, in an oped entitled, The Watchman Fraud, said that Harper Lee said in 1964that she deplored lack of craftsmanship in American writing, lack of love for language. Nocera says that a publisher that cared about Lee's legacy would hve taken those words to heart and declined to publish Watchman, the good idea that she transformed into a gem. That HarperCollins decided instead fo manufacture a phony literary event isn't surprising. It's just sad.

    There are many Mockingbird fans. Many children are named after Atticus Finch because he was such a principled and just man. To ruin this image will be very tough. Gregory Peck was a staunch anti-racist and was known for that in his movie role in Mockingbird.

    Many readers and Mockingbird lovers won't read Watchman. That includes me.
    At a time when our country is just dealing with one racist act after another, the last thing we need is the reveral of a good person into a bigot.

  6. Above comment isn't by anonymous, but by Kathy D.

    1. Thanks for your comments Kathy D - there's obviously a huge question mark over the whole enterprise.

  7. It's worth reading the op-ed by Joe Nocera and the article in The New Yorker on this book, too. The stories about how the book was discovered and then published differ and call it into question altogether. That and what it is doing to Atticus Finch's character.

    Gregory Peck would have been quite upset about this, I'm sure. As are the parents who named their children after the character.

    But I wonder how teachers will discuss Mockingbird and then Watchman, when one of the first book's major points is the importance of having integrity and standing up for justice and against bigotry. It's shameful to me.

    1. Thanks Kathy, I'm glad we've got your views lined up with your name....

  8. Yes! I take responsibility for my comments. But it's wild over here: blog posts, reviews in esteemed magazines, newspapers, online posts, hot and heavy discussions. I wonder if lawsuits will be filed. I wonder what school boards and teachers will do.

    Oh, well, back to the blogs.

    1. I did read the NY op-ed you mentioned Kathy - very interesting.


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