Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee - Review


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Twenty-six year-old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch comes back to Maycomb, Alabama from NYC to visit her aging father. She doesn't expect to learn disturbing truths about her family while she's there. Everything she thought she knew about her father has been challenged and thrown into doubt. Basicaly, Scout is a grown-up, Jem is dead, and Atticus is a racist member the KKK (along with pretty much everyone else).

Honestly, Go Set a Watchman was one of those books that I wasn't sure I wanted to read because I love To Kill a Mockingbird so much. However, when my library received their copy I was the first person to put my name on the hold list for it - I just couldn't stay away.

One of the things that bothered me about the release of this book is actually the publication history. I can't help but think of it's release now as some sort of a cash grab. Another thing that I don't understand is the way that it's being marketed - have you noticed it's often being billed as a sequel? To clear things up, it is not a sequel. It is actually the original draft of what was eventually reworked into To Kill a Mockingbird. There is no way not to compare the two works because the uneven Watchman cannot stand on its own.

While this draft isn't as lyrical and can't quite decide what it wants to be, I could still see elements of what makes To Kill a Mockingbird a classic. The key pieces are there it just needed a major overhaul to give it what it was missing. For example, here Scout aka Jean Louise tells us her story directly as an adult often flashing back to her childhood. Atticus is no longer seen through the lens of said childhood - he is not her moral compass or guiding light anymore. He is a bit more complex and much more infuriating. Regardless of how much I dislike this racist version of Atticus, it's still interesting to see him this way especially considering Jean Louise's reaction and the time period of the setting. I could fully relate to her reaction to realizing that he is not the man she thought he was her whole life. One element that truly took me by surprise, in that I hadn't heard about it beforehand, is the fact that there is no Jem. Jem died from a bad heart about two years before this story begins. He was so gloriously alive that it's hard to imagine him being gone just like that, but his death does make way for her relationship with Henry Clinton.

I've seen extreme reviews of Go Set a Watchman at opposite ends of the spectrum. I'd say I'm somewhere in the middle actually. It's not To Kill a Mockingbird at all, but an earlier draft of a true classic. Atticus's depiction here didn't completely ruin his character for me - I'm just extremely glad that I got to know the Atticus I know and love.


I read this novel from July 13 - 18, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.

8 comments:

  1. I've been curious about this book, and I have mixed feelings about it, so it was nice to read a review from someone who is kind of in the middle about it, which is probably how I would rate it once I read it. Anyway, great review!

    And I have nominated you for The Blogger Recognition Award. Check out my post: http://iheartfictionalpeople.com/2015/07/the-blogger-recognition-award/

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    1. Thank you very much for the kind words and the nomination!

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  2. Your reaction seems to be what most people are having to it. Like you, I'm kind of put off by Go Set A Watchmen because it seems like a really blatant cash grab (and then there's the whole issue of whether Harper Lee is of sound mind which is fairly concerning) so I don't really want to spend any money on it. To be honest though I would probably buy it if if stood on its own two feet and was actually good, but judging by this, and many other reviews, it's quite uneven. I might see if I can get Go Set A Watchmen from the library but I won't be buying it in any case.

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    1. That's exactly the reason I haven't actually purchased a copy. The more people I know who have read it the more I've noticed a similar reaction. Thanks for stopping by. I'll be interested to see what you think of it.

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  3. I have been curious about this book as well. I'm not sure I'll ever read it but it's interesting to see where she has taken these characters. Jem not being around is a pretty big hole.
    Great review!

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    1. It's was the most interesting aspect - seeing what became of the characters between this and To Kill A Mockingbird. Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Hmmm, interesting. Part of me doesn't want to read it, but to be honest I don't think I'll be able to hold out. But no Jem?? And an Atticus in the KKK?? Ugh. I like the idea of a grown-up Scout, but I hate the thought of Atticus as a racist.

    Great review, though, Lauren! :)

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    1. Thanks very much!

      I felt exactly the same way and I just couldn't stay away either.

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