Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee Book Review and Giveaway

Despite the controversy surrounding this book and my resolution to steer c211a-go2bset2ba2bwatchman2bcover2bphotoas clear as possible from it (because of how it reportedly contradicted my favorite book of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird) I have indeed read and reviewed it. I can say with all honesty that I didn’t hate it as I thought I would. I didn’t exactly like it, but at least I didn’t hate it.

Contrary to what many people still seem to think, Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to TKAM. The circumstances behind the publishing of this book are shady at best. After suffering a stroke in 2007 and now 89 years old, Harper Lee is nearly blind, deaf and reportedly forgetful. How much input into the sudden publication Harper Lee had is highly debatable. In 1957, Lee gave the original draft of Go Set a Watchman to her agent, who in turn sent it to an editor at J. P. Lippincott, where it was turned down as being too “anecdotal” and not having any real “substance”. Lee was asked to work on the book further and two years later To Kill a Mockingbird was published. Therefore, one can assume that Go Set a Watchman was a rough draft of TKAM. The draft was only recently discovered after the death of Lee’s sister, who had stored it in a bank vault on Lee’s behalf.

Chronologically, Watchman is set a couple of decades after TKAM. We meet Scout, now in her mid-twenties and now referred to as Jean Louise. She’s headed home to Maycomb County from New York City for a visit with the family. After the book finally gets started, readers are thrown into a very different South than was portrayed in Lee’s true masterpiece.

Watchman starts slow and somewhat boring. So much so that I began to wonder if it had been written by the same author. With regards to the storyline, gone is Scout’s sense of wide-eyed innocence, which I found so beautifully charming in TKAM. There are numerous flashbacks that recall stories of Scout and Jem as teenagers, but this book is clearly about Jean Louise, the grown and morally outraged woman.  After all, she’s been living in the North, which she feels has progressed more to her liking. She’s clearly idolized Atticus her entire life and now comes to the startling revelation that his ideals aren’t what she’d once thought they were.

As for much of the writing, I found that it didn’t flow nearly as well as I’d expected. The dialogue was peppered with old-fashioned, rambling and silly chatter. I didn’t find Jean Louise at all likeable and her constant ruminations and recriminations quickly grew tiresome. Stomping around, lecturing and berating everyone else because she had been “colorblind” up to that point made her seem more like an idealistic teenager than a twenty-six year old woman.

The ending struck me as a copout. It was left open-ended and it was as though no one (the editor? the money-hungry publisher?) knew where to go with it. The reason why Jean Louise “finally comes to her senses” and doesn’t storm off back to NYC was insulting to women and ridiculous (no spoilers here). Feminists should have a field day with it. However, it was 1957 and the world was a very different place.

Despite all of this, I’d still recommend reading Go Set a Watchman, if only to get an idea of how Harper Lee’s writing developed and advanced so that she could go on to write one of the greatest literary works of our time. Taken for what it truly was – a very rough draft of To Kill a Mockingbird – it’s worth taking the time to read, if only for comparison. My only hope is that readers will understand that this is the result of the publisher’s blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of To Kill a Mockingbird and not blame the author for its publication.

3 of 5 Stars, Review by Susan Barton



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