Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

In brief: Scout grew up. Now she returns home to Maycomb to find things are different – our little girl has grown up.

The good: The part about Scout, Jem and Dill playing is awesome.

The not-so-good: It’s a draft. It’s uneven and boring in places and it’s good but bad that I got to read it.

Why I chose it: Caved into social media peer pressure.

Year: 2015

Pages: 278

Publisher: William Heinemann

Setting: Maycomb, Alabama

My rating: 5 out of 10

I don’t think Go Set a Watchman needs any introduction. If you’re reading this, I think you’ve been around the internet enough to know that this was discovered recently. How to describe it is a different matter – is it a prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird (even though it’s set later, when Scout is grown up)? Is it a sequel (even though it was written before TKAM?) Is it a draft? I’m going to go with the latter here – there are flashes of pure brilliance in this novel, but it’s uneven, confused and even boring in places for me. Note that while I really enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s not a holy grail of a book for me (a lot of my friends read it for school, I didn’t, so perhaps I am infected slightly with that ‘school read = bad book’ feeling). The book is fascinating as a draft of what would eventually become a great story, but as a standalone, it’s not worth the space on the bookshelf for me. I should add that I am the reader who always gives those sequels to classics (whether authorised or not) a go in the hope of finding ‘the’ book. I’ve been disappointed by Scarlett (authorised sequel to Gone With the Wind, although that hasn’t stopped me buying other sequels) and numerous Pride and Prejudice sequels, from the time-appropriate to the ones that make Fifty Shades of Grey look tame.

So you can guess that Go Set a Watchman is not The Sequel for me, despite it being unusual in that it’s written by the same author and therefore the ‘true’ story of what happened next. There are a couple of factors in this, most which have been described on the internet in great detail but here’s my take on it anyway. (Warning: spoilers ahead).

  1. No Jem and no Dill.

Poor Jem dies an early death. He’s nothing but a memory and a character in a reminiscence Scout has about playing with him and Dill one summer (it’s this part that was my favourite and captures the innocence and fun of TKAM). Dill may or may not be in Germany, Scout’s not sure. All we know is he’s not here. I think the book suffers because of this – Scout’s got no-one to volley with except Atticus and Uncle Jack. Henry is useless and dull as dishwater and not the right man for Scout.

  1. Atticus – WTF?

Many of us grew up knowing that Atticus Finch is the man of all reason. This book turns this on its head – is this man a racist? What on earth happened? How did he go from being great and good to one of the misguided? Atticus’ rationale is longwinded and ultimately confusing for me. Just no.

  1. Henry.

He is encroaching on Jem’s turf. He’s boring without the spark Scout needs in her life. Thank goodness she came to her senses.

  1. Jean Louise.

She’ll always be Scout to us. Plus, when she’s called by her full name it sounds like Scout’s in trouble. So that’s pretty much the entire book. Plus she’s pretty damn selfish at times and unlikeable. Yes, that’s Scout I’m talking about.

  1. Cal.

Almost entirely missing and the bond between her and Scout is gone. This was ugly cry worthy.

So what is right with this early draft? Obviously it went on to greater things, but characters like Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack are well drawn and full of spark. It’s lovely to revisit Maycomb in a nostalgic sense (and Scout seems to hear us, taking the reader on a tour of the places of her childhood) and there’s some interesting history of the Finch family. The look at race tensions in the South was also interesting, but you really only get Scout’s view which is nearly as one-eyed as Atticus’. But really that’s about it. I think we need to send huge thanks to the editor who took this book and suggested it be told from Scout’s childhood perspective – you created a great book from a pretty ordinary draft.

I’m filing this book under sequels that just aren’t the true sequel.

8 thoughts on “Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Add yours

  1. I won’t be reading this one! TKAM IS a “holy grail” book for me. I loved it when I first read it at 16 and I love it now. I’ve been trying to make up my mind whether I would risk reading this one or not. I don’t think I could bear seeing my beloved Atticus developed in an unsympathetic fashion! Thanks for helping me make up my mind.

  2. Go Set a Watchman is sitting in my reading pile and has been there for a while. I’m in two minds about this one, but like you will probably cave to peer pressure. Thanks for the honest review.

  3. I have to admit that I have not read To Kill a Mocking Bird. My daughter was quite shocked at this. Thanks for the review, I won’t be reading this either.

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