Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review: "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee

Twenty-six year old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch has come home to Maycomb, Alabama for her two week summer vacation.  She currently lives in New York City, so returning to her rural Southern town usually feels welcoming and relaxing.  But this time, it isn't long before she realizes that some things have changed... the recent Supreme Court ruling(s) ensuring civil rights to black people have raised racial tensions in her quiet little town.  Scout considers herself "color-blind" in that to her, people are people and is horrified to learn that some people she loves dearly do not feel the same way.

I think everyone is well aware of all the controversies surrounding this novel.  To make it clear, and especially after reading this - no, I do not think this was ever meant to be published, nor should it have been.  But its out there now, and whats done is done in this case.  To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all time favorite novels ever, and this is not a sequel.  I urge you not to think of it in that way.  This is essentially the first draft of what became TKAM, and it was, in fact, rejected by publishers.  So, keeping that in mind...

These are not the characters you think you know.  They also evolved as TKAM was written.  So you have to read what is written here, and not what you wanted/expected or with any nostalgic feelings.  Knowing that this eventually became TKAM, you can see exactly the kind of story Harper Lee wanted to tell.  She clearly wanted to write about and make her point regarding the race issue that was overtaking the South.  While many scenes in this book are disjointed, and have strange flashbacks to Scout's past...  she makes her overarching point in a very loud and in-your-face way (that is not exactly keeping with the tone of the rest of the book).  However, the moments in which Scout discovers that her father is actually fallible and human was very interesting and relatable to me.
I think part of the most intriguing things about reading this book is that you can pretty much see where TKAM came from.  I can picture the original publishing houses saying "No, this isn't what we're looking for exactly - but what if you took these couple of pages and turned that into something?"

So, do I recommend reading this?  I think it is worth it, as long as you can keep it separate in your mind from TKAM and everything in that masterpiece of a novel.  This doesn't compare to that greatness, but it is interesting in the context of literary history or timelines and that sort of thing.  Had this never been published, I would not have missed it...  but its here and so I had to read it.  It scared me though - I couldn't just jump into it....  but I'm glad I'm through it and can donate my copy to the library.  I won't need it again.

*****
Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Harper, 2015
278 pages
Source:  Purchased New
*****

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1 comment:

heavenali said...

Just reviewed this too. I agree that Watchman isn't as great as Mockingbird but I found it more powerful than I had expected. There are weaknesses and inconsistencies but they didn't really worry me that much.

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