Book Reviews

Book Review: Go Set A Watchman

Since its release Go Set a Watchman has faced a slew of disappointment and criticism, so when reading it for myself, I tried to set all judgement aside and go into it with an open mind. Learn more in this Go Set A Watchman review.

book cover of Go Set a WatchMan by Harper Lee

What Go Set A Watchman Is About

The original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, is set years after the first book. It’s what Harper Lee presented to the publishers. They had her re-write the whole thing, and To Kill a Mockingbird was born.

A now twenty-six Jean Louise Finch, who we all know and love as Scout, comes home from New York to visit her father. Set during civil rights tensions and political upheaval in the south, her homecoming comes with revelations about her home and family. Jean Louise’s entire perspective and worldview is put to the test.

There isn’t so much of a plot or story with this as there was in the first book; it’s just a journey of self-discovery for Scout, which is triggered by life back in Maycomb.

Why The Controversy Surrounding This Book?

I found myself agreeing with much of the criticism. I’m not going to be overly harsh on Harper Lee, though, because I think Watchman needs to be taken with a pinch of salt – it was initially rejected for publication, after all. There’s also the fact that To Kill a Mockingbird was a masterpiece, and I don’t think novels like that can be written twice, so the sequel (although it was written first) could never measure up.

Given the fact that there are conflicting stories about how Watchman‘s manuscript was discovered over 50 years later and speculation as to whether or not Lee was in a position to consent to the publication makes me doubt whether or not this was a novel intended to enter the public domain.

What I Thought

The new book lacked the impact and catharsis To Kill a Mockingbird had. If you blocked out its predecessor, it would be a decent novel – not amazing or particularly special, but I would be hesitant to say that it’s a bad read.

Set years later in Scout’s (Jean Louise) adulthood, I found myself disconnected from the characters and Maycomb itself. I understand that Jean Louise had grown up, and elements of the old Scout remained; I didn’t find her as compelling.

And Atticus, dear sweet Jesus, what happened to Atticus Finch!? I adored Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird; he was wise, warm, and gentle. In Go Set a Watchman, his behaviour was explained, but he wasn’t the same. He came off as narrow-minded, cowardly, and intolerant.

This was a novel that reinforces the sad life lesson that we all learn at some point or another: often, those you respect or look up to prove themselves to be flawed and not as heroic or admirable as they once seemed to be. Maybe that’s all a part of growing up, but that enlightenment hits home.

The plot wasn’t solid. It was readable but not overly stimulating – if there was a climax, I hardly noticed it. A huge difference was that although racism was a huge theme, it thrived in this novel instead of being fought against.

Lee had a beautiful writing style, but I found her jumps from third to first-person irritating. A lot happened that just wasn’t explained to readers. Sometimes you need to tell.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, I found Go Set a Watchman a mediocre read at best. You might enjoy it more if you repress everything you know about To Kill a Mockingbird. However, either way, it’s still clear as day why it wasn’t originally published in this form. It feels like a draft and not a finished novel.

There are so many contributing factors as to why this doesn’t deserve to be considered a bad book; after all, its potential is what led to To Kill a Mockingbird getting published in the first place!

I’d recommend reading this, but take it with more than a pinch of salt. If you liked To Kill a Mocking Bird and other classics, you might like A Clockwork Orange and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Have you read Go Set A Watchman? What did you think?

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