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Sunday Read: Read or Listen to the First Chapter of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (Narrated by Reese Witherspoon)

Go Set a WatchmanTo Kill a MockingbirdThe Guardian has released an exclusive extract from Harper Lee’s long-awaited new novel, Go Set a Watchman, which will be released this month in South Africa by Penguin Random House.

Readers will remember the furore that occurred in February this year when news of the 88-year-old’s new novel was announced. Go Set a Watchman is set 20 years after the events in that timeless classic To Kill a Mockingbird. A now grown-up Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout, returns to her father’s house and tries to understand both the place where she grew up and the way Atticus sees the world.

Stephen King tweeted this weekend:


The Guardian has shared the first chapter from the novel, including an animated version and a podcast of Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon reading from the book. In the first chapter we meet Scout on the last leg of her train journey from New York to Maycomb Alabama.

Read the extract (for the animated first chapter click here):

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 stenciled 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 LEVER DOWN OVER BRACKETS, a situation remedied by the porter to her embarrassment, as her habit was to sleep only in pajama tops.

Listen to the podcast for Witherspoon’s narration of Go Set a Watchman:

Since the first chapter was released on Friday people have shared their reaction via The Guardian’s live blog. From reminiscing about the first time they read To Kill a Mockingbird to politely asking the internet to refrain from spoiling the plot, Go Set a Watchman has sparked an international interest among young and old.

What makes this book so influential, even though it hasn’t been released in full yet? Alabama arts reporter Carla Jean Whitley commented in a podcast about the relevance of the themes in the book to the south of America, where she’s lived all her life and where racial hatred remains rife.

Listen to the podcast:


For more tweets, photographs of people reading the long-awaited novel and insight into the larger themes of the book, follow The Guardian’s live coverage here. You can also see people’s comments and queries on Twitter by following the hashtag #GoSetAWatchman:


Read Michiko Kakutani’s review of Go Set a Watchman for The New York Times:

We remember Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s 1960 classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as that novel’s moral conscience: kind, wise, honorable, an avatar of integrity who used his gifts as a lawyer to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town filled with prejudice and hatred in the 1930s. As indelibly played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie, he was the perfect man — the ideal father and a principled idealist, an enlightened, almost saintly believer in justice and fairness. In real life, people named their children after Atticus. People went to law school and became lawyers because of Atticus.

Shockingly, in Ms. Lee’s long-awaited novel, “Go Set a Watchman” (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” Or asks his daughter: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”


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What did you think of the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!

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Image courtesy of Time Magazine


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