101 Books Reviews “Go Set A Watchman”
Let’s start with a spoiler-free version of my review of Go Set A Watchman.
This is a well-written novel that certainly reflects the style of Harper Lee. So many of the seeds that bloomed into To Kill A Mockingbird are evident throughout the novel. However, the story itself is lacking—cliched, uninspired and, leaving behind what you already know about Atticus Finch and the main characters, predictable.
It’s a good “first go” at a novel—one that was astutely nurtured by Lee’s editor into what eventually became TKAM. But, honestly, we should never have seen this book. As excited as I was when Watchman was first announced, I’ve slowly become a bit sad about the whole ordeal.
Watchman is an academic curiosity, certainly not a sequel to one of the most endearing novels ever written. The novel has its bright spots, but it too often falls into predictable patterns with melodramatic plot twists worthy of a profound piano crescendo. Dun, Dun, Duhhhhh.
I typically don’t have a numbered rating with my reviews. But, just for kicks, I’ll give Go Set A Watchman a 5 out of 10.
NOW ON TO THE SPOILER ZONE…
Yeah, Atticus Finch is a racist.
I repeat, Atticus is haggard, crappy old racist.
To read Go Set A Watchman without being profoundly disappointed—something I wasn’t entirely able to do—you’ll probably need to pretend these characters exist in an alternate universe. Forget everything you’ve ever known about the Finch family, and good luck with that.
The Atticus you know and love never existed. The same goes for Scout, Jem and Calpurnia. And Boo Radley? As far as we know, he was never born.
I’ve mentioned it in a prior post—but many aspects of TKAM shine through in Go Set A Watchman. Mainly, you’re reminded why that novel was a classic in the first place. Harper Lee is a fabulous writer—her stories fit so comfortably inside a sepia-toned deep south landscape.
If anything this novel can remind you of why you loved TKAM.
But, at the same time, it has a jarring way of bringing you back to reality. These aren’t really the same characters, and this isn’t really the same Maycomb you’ve grown to love. Some of the events in TKAM did actually take place, like the Tom Robinson trial with Atticus as his attorney, which makes the story even more jarring.
Scout is, by far, the most lovable character in Go Set A Watchman. She’s even consistent with what you would have imagine her to grown into from the child you read about in TKAM.
Interestingly, Scout seems almost as stunned as the reader to find out her beloved father has turned into a racist who meets at “community organized events”–basically dumbed down Klan rallies– at the courthouse. None of it matches up, though. There’s no rational, even plausible, way of explaining how Atticus went from A to Z in just 20 short years.
That’s why you just have to leave To Kill A Mockingbird behind if you choose to read this novel. And see how hard that it to do? I keep comparing the two even in this review!
Should you read it? I’ll leave that up to you. But, if you choose to read the novel, appreciate it for what it is—an early, cliché-heavy draft that barely resembles the classic book it later became.
Opening Line: “Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical.”
The Meaning: The title is based on Isaiah 21:6: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Scout has always viewed Atticus as a “watchman” of Maycomb, and now he’s let her down.
Highlights: This is a pretty novel. It’s certainly has the feel of a Harper Lee story. Beautifully written, poetic in places. Scout is just as you would imagine her to be as an adult.
Lowlights: Cliches. Melodramatic plot twists. To me, the story feels like a first draft….Oh, that’s because it was.
Memorable Line: “The time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right.”
Final Thoughts: Not a huge fan of Go Set A Watchman, but I’m glad to have read the book. And as much as I’m underwhelmed by this novel, that in no way affects my respect for Harper Lee and love for To Kill A Mockingbird. TKAM is and always will be a classic.