I read Go Set a Watchman immediately after buying the book. Since then, I’ve spent some time thinking about this book I’d anticipated as much or more than the Harry Potter books (and that’s saying something). My friends and I even went to a release party at Nightbird Books. Fun!
After reading it, I’ve let the story percolate in my mind. And I’ve avoided reviews to keep from being swayed. My opinion is mixed. The things I like about the book, I really, really, like. The things I dislike still make me cringe two weeks later.
I realize the very idea of the book influenced the way I viewed it. There’s no way I could consider it as any other newly released book, or a sequel, or prequel, or whatever it’s supposed to be because of the timing involved between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Plus, the circumstances and rumors circulating about the book and whether or not Lee intended it to be released play into the equation.
So here are my conflicted thoughts.
The Writing. Go Set a Watchman reads like the unedited first draft that it is—full of cliches (that likely weren’t cliches at the time) and odd, confusing sentence structure (that likely were odd and confusing at the time). The dialog doesn’t read the way I expect Atticus and Scout to speak. For example, there is an overuse of endearing terms such as “Honey”, “Baby” and “Sweet.” No matter how many years has passed, I can’t imagine 72-year-old Atticus or 26-year-old Scout being sugary sweet in their conversations with anyone and especially not with each other.
But. As I held the book in my hands, I felt some serious awe that Harper Lee wrote these words so long ago. I believe certain people, based on their work and life’s accomplishments, have earned a modicum of respect, and if anyone’s work deserves a deeper look, Harper Lee’s does.
For me, this book is the discovery of a buried treasure, something hidden and secret that might otherwise never have been uncovered. Yes, Watchman is rough around the edges and not in fashion according to today’s standards, but time capsules have always fascinated me, and this book is a time capsule.
The Story. I read and read yet nothing much happened. The storyline is weak. The plot? There isn’t much of one. Sadly, Boo Radley suspense doesn’t exist. Most of the conflict occurs as a soliloquy in Scout’s head.
But. Who wouldn’t want to get inside Scout’s head? There are flashes of To Kill a Mockingbird brilliance in Lee’s (and therefore, Scout’s) description of people and places. When at the University, Cousin Joshua studied too hard and thought too much; in fact, he read himself straight out of the nineteenth century. Spoken like the Scout I know and adore.
The Language. The racist statements and thoughts and discussions between characters are difficult to read, atrocious even.
But. The book is a history lesson, a look back at the South during the time it was written—the 1950s—when the ink was barely dry on Brown v. Board of Education, yet segregation was very much commonplace. The uncomfortable word choice and intolerable ideas presented in Watchman provide a stark contrast in just how far we’ve come as a society, even in light of recent issues.
Some of my favorite characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are gone, barely mentioned, or dead. I wanted and expected continuity of characters. My hangup, I know.
But. Even though certain characters are not central or present in Watchman, Lee’s flashbacks to them are lovely and nostalgic and one of the best parts of the book for me.
My Final Thoughts:
As someone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird, I expected certain things from Go Set a Watchman. As a reader, I don’t have a say. My biggest problems with the book involve my own expectations. I had put Harper Lee on such a high pedestal, she couldn’t fill her own shoes. Just as Scout realizes Atticus is human, I now understand Harper Lee is a mere mortal, too.
Am I glad I bought the book and read it? I really had no choice. Not reading something written by Harper Lee would have gnawed at me like the last piece of cherry pie sitting on the kitchen countertop. Eat me, read me, eat me, read me…
But. Perhaps Go Set a Watchman should have been marketed for what it really is—part of Harper Lee’s unpolished, unpublished papers—rather than the next great American novel.
And I can’t help thinking that maybe Harper Lee needs a watchman going forward. Someone with her best interests at heart.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
The Beatles, While My Guitar Gently Weeps