Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee, published July 2015 by William Heinemann.
Read: October 2015
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, “Scout”, returns home from New York City to visit her ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bitter-sweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt.
Periodically, I decide to dip my toe into the Classics waters. Even though this rarely works out for me, I’m persistent in my hunt for Classics books I’ll enjoy. When I picked up To Kill A Mockingbird in 2015, I had no idea it was going to be a 5* read, or that it would become one of my favourite books of all time. So, when I heard the manuscript for a “sequel”, Go Set A Watchman, had been found, I was very curious and just a little bit excited to reunite with my beloved Scout and Atticus. That was before I discovered the controversy surrounding how the book came to be published (more on that tomorrow), and realised that the moral and ethical pillar of Atticus had been tainted beyond repair…
Initially promoted by the publisher as a “sequel”, make no mistake that Go Set A Watchman is actually a draft manuscript of the novel we’ve come to know and love. This is evident in Lee’s less polished voice, and in inconsistencies in storyline (the rape trial is a key focus of Mockingbird, but is only mentioned in passing in Watchman, interestingly with a different outcome). If ever there was a book that showed the merits of a fantastic Editor, it’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Ultimately, I struggled with this novel. It was impossible to judge it solely on its own merit and not compare it to Mockingbird, but more than that, even if attempting to read it as a standalone novel, it simply wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same impact.
Lots of readers were devastated to discover that in Go Set A Watchman, Atticus Finch is racist. Many read this as a form of character development, likely due to the publisher marketing this work as a “sequel”. While disappointing and at times difficult to stomach, it’s important to remember that these characters are not the characters we originally met in Mockingbird. They are draft versions, who ultimately didn’t make the final cut. If it helps to make more sense of it, lets believe they co-exist in a parallel universe! But they are not our Scout and Atticus.
To enjoy Watchman in any way, I think you need to look at it as a fascinating insight into the mind of a writer, a physical manifestation of the writing process. Consider it the behind-the-scenes-documentary of Mockingbird. The character who felt most true to the final version was Scout – it felt as though we were catching up with her as a grown woman, and idiosyncrasies of her personality had stayed with her into adulthood (feisty-ness anyone?). The most obvious and distinctive changes from Watchman to Mockingbird are the tone and purpose of each novel, while one eventually ended up creating the other, the essence of each story is wholly different.
Personally, I don’t regret reading Go Set A Watchman. Lee’s writing ability is clear in the novel, even if her voice is unpolished compared to the beauty of Mockingbird. However, I understand that this won’t be for everyone. I was curious and wanted to read this book, but due to the circumstances under which its was published, I didn’t want to purchase it myself. Luckily, I won my copy through a giveaway hosted by Elena @ Elena Reads Books, and I will be passing my copy on to someone else who is intrigued to read it, but for whatever reason doesn’t feel comfortable purchasing it. If this is you, please let me know!
Tomorrow, I’ll be publishing a post that goes into the detail of the controversy surrounding the publication of this book, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on it. However, when simply reviewing this as a book, from the point of view of a Mockingbird lover, I think it’s the literary equivalent of Sex and The City 2: we’ll all check it out, we’ll all have our thoughts on it, and then we’ll all pretend it never happened because the original was so much better.
“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”
“A man can condemn his enemies, but it’s wiser to know them.”
“As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons.”
“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.”
Have you read Go Set A Watchman? What were your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments!