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The ShortRead: Harper Lee

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The ShortRead of 15 July


Harper Lee

15 July

Go Set A Watchman

Author: Harper Lee

What's the story: Forty million. That's roughly how many copies of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird have been sold worldwide. It populates the book shelves of classrooms, libraries and living rooms the world over, and should go some way to explaining the excitement that surrounds the arrival of Go Set a Watchman - a sequel some 55 years in the waiting. 

Watchman reunites readers with Lee's iconic writing style: set 20 years after the events of Mockingbird, it sees Scout (Jean Louise Finch) return home from New York to visit her father, Atticus, where she is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father's attitude toward society. You can expect this to sit at the top of Best Sellers list for weeks to come.

Release date: Out now


Extract

Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied, her joy rose.

Jean Louise Finch always made this journey by air, but she decided to go by train from New York to Maycomb Junction on her fifth annual trip home. For one thing, she had the life scared out of her the last time she was on a plane: the pilot elected to fly through a tornado. For another thing, flying home meant her father rising at three in the morning, driving a hundred miles to meet her in Mobile, and doing a full day’s work afterwards: he was seventy-two now and this was no longer fair.

She was glad she had decided to go by train. Trains had changed since her childhood, and the novelty of the experience amused her: a fat genie of a porter materialized when she pressed a button on a wall; at her bidding a stainless steel washbasin popped out of another wall, and there was a john one could prop one’s feet on. She resolved not to be intimidated by several messages stencilled around her compartment—a roomette, they called it—but when she went to bed the night before, she succeeded in folding herself up into the wall because she had ignored an injunction to PULL THIS LEAVER DOWN, a situation remedied by the porter to her embarrassment, as her habit was to sleep only in pajama tops.

Luckily, he happened to be patrolling the corridor when the trap snapped shut with her in it: “I’ll get you out, Miss,” he called in answer to her poundings from within. “No please,” she said. “Just tell me how to get out.” “I can do it with my back turned,” he said, and did.

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 was starting on her fourth cup of coffee the Crescent Limited honked like a giant goose at its northbound mate and rumbled across the Chattahoochee into Alabama.

The Chattahoochee is wide, flat, and muddy. It was low today; a yellow sandbar had reduced its flow to a trickle. Perhaps it sings in the wintertime, she thought: I do not remember a line of that poem. Piping down the valleys wild? No. Did he write to a waterfowl, or was it a waterfall?


(Images: Flickr/Kate Hiscock; Rex)

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