Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee was promoted in America as the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, which probably explains why so many reviews I read were written by disillusioned readers.
However, before it’s release in Australia, I read an article that described the book as Lee’s first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, and that she worked with her editor for the next two years to transform it into the bestseller.
Which led me to wonder if the reason Harper Lee never wrote another book was because she was scared of failing. If I had an editor help me transform my book into a best seller, I’d doubt my own ability to write a good book by myself. Is it possible she felt a little like a fraud when To Kill a Mockingbird generated such acclaim?
As a writer, the main reason I wanted to read this book was because I LOVED that it took the author and the editor two years of working together to mold a first draft into a best seller, and I wanted to find out how far the draft was from the final product.
Finally, the truth was out there! First drafts sometimes suck, and rewrites are what makes a book good.
Apart from the characters, the book is vastly different from To Kill a Mockingbird. Apparently, the editor saw the possibilities of that story in Jean Louise’s recollections of her childhood, and encouraged Lee to write the story around Tom Robinson’s trial in the child’s voice.
In Go Set a Watchman, Scout, known as Jean Louise, is a 26 years old New Yorker, who travels by train to Maycomb, Alabama for her annual visit to her father, Atticus. A love interest develops between Jean Louise and Henry, who now works for Atticus, but little else happens apart from occasional pointers to the South’s continued struggle at embracing the local negro community as equals.
The adult Scout believes passionately about equal rights for the black community, and she can’t understand why this should be a problem, whereas her father understands the bigger picture.
My overall impression was that the story was about the way children see everything as either black or white, whereas maturity teaches us that there is a grey side to every issue.
Another angle, is that the story was simply about growing up and coming to the realisation that a worshiped parent is flawed.
I found it to be generally well written, although dated in many ways, but still a compelling read. There were a few points where the writing was amateurish, especially in the long and unrealistic rants by some characters towards the end. And the conclusion of the story seemed a little simplistic to me, but I’d still recommend the book.
As an aside, I found the following words from Scout’s uncle and mentor, to be almost prophetic in today’s political climate:
“The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in.
Did you read Go Set a Watchman? I’d love to know why you read it, and what you thought of it. Please feel free to disagree with me – I love other opinions.