Go Set a Watchman – Book review and giveaway!

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

imagesSet during the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s, To Kill a Mockingbird, is the tale of an innocent childhood in a sleepy southern town rocked by scandal. When Lawyer Atticus Finch chooses to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white girl he exposes his children to the reality of racism and stereotyping. The story, which is told through the eyes of Atticus’ six-year-old daughter, Jean-Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, sheds an amusing unfettered light on the irrationality of deep-south traditions surrounding race and class in the mid-1930s. At its heart, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic coming-of-age tale, which went on to become one of the most famed anti-racist novels of the 20th century. Today the book is widely regarded as a one of the masterpieces of American Literature.

It’s no wonder then, that the release of Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, fifty-five years after To Kill a Mockingbird, was met with such excitement.

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

You deny them hope. Any man in this world, Atticus, any man who has a head and arms and legs, was born with hope in his heart. You won’t find that in the Constitution, I picked that up in church somewhere. They are simple people, most of them, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.

81SX8d6vpzLGo Set a Watchman takes up with twenty-six-year-old Jean-Louise, as she returns to Maycomb to visit her now ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Go Set a Watchman delves into the raw truth of the political turmoil which marred the Southern United States of the 1950s. Jean-Louise’s homecoming, far from being an idyllic break in the country, takes an unsettling turn, as racial tensions rippling through the town come to her attention and she learns some troubling truths about the friends and family close to her heart. As she struggles to comprehend the changes occurring around her, Jean-Louise embarks on a life-changing journey guided by her own conscience.

By now, you will have no doubt read your fair share of reviews and criticism of Go Set a Watchman. Before I get into the controversy surrounding the book’s release, and subsequent criticisms of the book itself, I first want to tell you why I loved the book.

The structure of Go Set a Watchman is so completely different to To Kill a Mockingbird; I’ve heard it called jarring, and awkward, but I found it refreshing. The novel is told in the third person, but still awards an amazing insight into the minds of the central characters, with large sections of text given over to Jean-Louise’s hilarious internal monologue, particularly when she finds herself at odds with her insufferable aunt (‘Jehovah!’). As a reader you are able to witness Jean-Louise without being restricted by seeing everything through her eyes. I loved the effect that this had and I feel it allowed for a deeper understanding of her character.  The quick fisted child from To Kill a Mockingbird may have aged some, but her personality and morals remain as rigid as ever. Even as an adult she is far happier in slacks than a skirt, and more than willing to speak her mind to anyone who disapproves. Twenty years on, and the adult Jean-Louise is still a force to be reckoned with.

I also loved the amount of time Lee gave to looking into Jean-Louise’s life in the years in between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. I loved Jean-Louise’s internal anecdotes about her childhood, in particular the nine month’s spent thinking she was pregnant after being wrongly advised about the birds and the bees by an older girl. Watching the whole debacle unfold is hilarious, but none so much as the exchange between Jean-Louise and Calpurnia when she finally confesses her horrible secret:

“I’m going to have a baby!” she sobbed.
“When?
“Tomorrow!

Calpurnia said, “As sure as the sweet Jesus was born, baby. Get this in your head right now, you ain’t pregnant and you never were. That ain’t the way it is.
“Well if I ain’t, then what am I?
“With all your book learnin’, you are the most ignorant child I ever did see…” Her voice trailed off. “… but I don’t reckon you really ever had a chance.

Little gems like this give Go Set a Watchman a really human feel, which I absolutely loved. It is one thing to witness a character’s story as it unfolds, but another to observe a character revisiting their past. The Jean-Louise of To Kill a Mockingbird exists only in the present moment, whereas the adult Jean-Louise transcends time periods to enable a fuller understanding of the complexities of her character.

Now, on to the controversy.

I know a lot of people are of the opinion that Lee was manipulated into granting permission for the release of Go Set a Watchman, and I’m sure nothing I say will change this, but I, personally, do not believe that this is the case. Firstly, friends and family close to Lee have outright denied that this claim – but this is not the only reason I choose to believe that Lee wanted the book to be published. I think that the presence of anomalies within the text, specifically with regards to the outcome of the Tom Robinson case in To Kill a Mockingbird, suggest that Lee had the definitive choice when it came to publishing the book. For me, the presence of such anomalies show that Lee wanted the book to be seen and to be viewed as it was; true to the time it was written, and not as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. If the release of Go Set a Watchman was nothing more than a money-making plan at the expense of a fragile old lady I do not think this would be the case.

The circumstances surrounding the publication of Go Set a Watchman are not the only thing awarding the book negative media attention. I have read so many opinion pieces that suggest that the book ruins To Kill a Mockingbird and taints the Atticus Finch that we all knew and loved. One US bookstore even offered refunds to anyone who purchased the novel from them, on the ground that their advertising it as ‘nice summer read’ was unquestionably false. This, again, I do not agree with.

When I read To Kill a Mockingbird I fell completely in love with Atticus, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman is fundamentally different. But did this new portrayal of his character ruin the former impression I had? No, of course not. The Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird still exists, and nothing will ever change that. Go Set A Watchman may be set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was never intended to serve as a sequel.

The time portrayed in Go Set a Watchman can’t be viewed in a vacuum, but neither should it be completely judged based on To Kill a Mockingbird. The two books are fundamentally different. One gave birth to the other. Go Set a Watchman in itself is an incredible look at the time in which it was written, allowing for amazing insight into the Southern United States of the 1950s.

Would Go Set a Watchman have been accepted by a publisher now were it not for To Kill a Mockingbird? I don’t know. Maybe not. The novel is certainly not as ground-breaking as To Kill a Mockingbird – but is that really surprising? It is the history of the book that is really fascinating. As readers we have been given the chance to read the first draft of one of the most famous books ever written. In reading Go Set a Watchman you are given an incredible insight into Harper Lee’s writing process. Needless to say, as a booklover, and a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, I found Go Set a Watchman to be an incredibly interesting and exciting book to read.

If you haven’t yet read Go Set a Watchman, and haven’t been put off by all the negative media coverage than I have good news for you. I have an extra copy of the book up for grabs for one lucky reader.

Simply comment on this blog post by Friday 4th September, to be in with a chance of winning.

Happy commenting!

The Lost Art of Sinking by Naomi Booth – Book review and giveaway!

“The floor scooped me up where I stood, and I blinked as it hit me― M. Beth Bloom

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Have you ever played the Fainting Game?

The girls of class 2B have a new obsession – perhaps you know it as the Dying Game, or maybe Indian Headrush? The rules are all the same.

We had all agreed. We would secretly play the Fainting Game every day in assembly the following week. The winner would be the girl who passed out the most times. Or, in the case of a tie, whoever passed out in the most dramatic way. If anyone died, they scored an automatic win. If more than one person died, the winner was the girl who died in the coolest way.

When the decision-makers of class 2B decided it was time to play the Fainting Game, it was nothing more than that – a game. It was just silly ritual among adolescent girls, to annoy their teachers and try and get a bit of a buzz, something to quickly go through and leave behind.

They all grew out of it… or rather… they almost all grew out of it.

In her debut novel Naomi Booth explores the art of losing yourself, and the effects of taking obsession a little too far. The Lost Art of Sinking is a beautiful, yet unusual novella, as artfully striking as it is subtly unsettling. Prepare to be blown away, swept into the depths of obsession and addiction, a journey which begins, and ends in a mysterious room.

Esther cannot stop thinking about the game, a self-proclaimed ‘non-swooner’ she has never managed to successfully lose consciousness. She obsesses over what it would be like, the experience, to find out what she was missing. She wants to see the visions the girls in her class have boasted about. To see the strange and beautiful shapes, like ghosts, familiar, yet alien, which will your body to let go.

I thought it sounded like the most wonderful thing and I hoarded that possibility inside myself.

While all her friends move on, passing likes ghosts from her peripheral vision, Esther continues to experiment with different ways to pass out.

Her fascination is rooted in the memory of her late mother the beautiful retired dancer, who lived her final years locked away in her studio, like a butterfly with a broken wing. In her despair, Esther’s mother never stopped attempting the perfect swoon – curving, trembling, sinking and rising.

Utterly resolved to her fate Esther holds her breath, wills herself to fall and when that fails she snorts cleaning products. Later, unable to rid herself of her obsession she loses herself in the sights and sounds of London. Through the endless streets and houses she can feel her mother calling to her, saturating her body and mind, tilting her head, arching her back, begging her to let go.

Esther’s fascination with falling is so all encompassing that she neglects all other aspects of her life. She has no plan, drifting from one place to another, seeing where the wind takes her, always searching.  Her obsession blinds her, so much so that she misses a glaring secret hidden in her past – one which, if left untold, could be her undoing.

In Esther, Booth has created a strange and wonderful character. Her persona is mystifying yet utterly two-dimensional – defined only by her actions and her obsession. As a reader you are given access to her inner thoughts, but these centre only on her desire to sink away, to become one with her mother. Her relationships feel hollow; her fleeting encounters with men no more than another attempt to reach her goal. Each time she is with someone they are with her body only, her mind is somewhere else entirely.

While Esther herself is a bit of a mystery, those around her are artfully sketched. She outlines all those she encounters, pouring their descriptions onto the page, from an unpleasant-smelling gentleman on the tube, whose odour emanates from his body in ‘mustardy waves’ to the odd young man that is her father.

Through Esther’s obsession, Booth takes the reader on a beautiful and haunting journey – which is all at once unsettling, dark and strangely hilarious. The Lost Art of Sinking is exquisitely written, evoking, sensual and all encompassing – once I started to read I didn’t stop. I was blown away by the writing, absorbed by the ride and fascinated by Esther’s mind. This is definitely one for those of you looking for something fresh and new – Naomi Booth is not to be overlooked.

The Lost Art of Sinking will be released 1st June 2015 by Penned in the Margins.

I was given a free review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

****GIVEAWAY****

I have been given a copy of The Lost Art of Sinking by the publisher to give away to one lucky reader.

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is comment on this post. Be sure to enter your correct email address when posting so I can get in touch if you win. The giveaway will run until Friday 12th June – giving you plenty of time to enter.

Good luck!

To Kill a Mockingbird ten-day (re)read challenge

“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Atticus Finch

Penguin Random House have today launched a ten-day social media campaign to get people to (re)read To Kill a Mockingbird, ahead of the release of Harper Lee’s highly-anticipated second novel Go Set a Watchman.

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The ten-day challenge, which will run from 21–31 May, is described as a ‘a read-along for readers old and new, (re)discovering and discussing the book together to a loose ten day plan.’

‘We’ll together be reading this brilliant piece of work by Harper Lee in preparation for Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman, out on the 14th July.’

You can keep up with what’s going on by following the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr sites that have been set up for Go Set a Watchman.

‘During this time we’ll be releasing lots of Mockingbird material, like family tree infographics, story guides and our favourite quotes,’ A Random House spokesperson has said. ‘We’ll also be making a call-out for everyone to share photos of their well-loved copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and hosting competitions to win copies of Go Set A Watchman to be sent out to lucky recipients as soon as the book is published in July.’

I don’t own a well-loved copy, although I did buy a copy of the new edition a couple of months back in anticipation of the release of Go Set a Watchman. I’m just so keen that I jumped ahead of the game!

Haven’t got a copy yet? Click here to solve that problem.

Go Set a Watchman, which sees Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird return to Maycomb as an adult, will be released on 14th July.

****GIVEAWAY****

In keeping with the spirit of the campaign I’ve decided to give you a chance to win a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. So if you want to take part in the challenge, but don’t have a copy of the book here’s your chance to get one. Just comment on this post by Sunday 24th May to be in with a chance of winning. The winner will be selected at random.

Good luck!