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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.

Other Stuff

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.

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. TeaBags&Books #

    Interesting point of view. I read To Kill A Mockingbird last month and I honestly didn’t like it much but I liked Atticus Finch and I loved his name, very memorable and it saddened me to know that he is racist.

    I am encouraged to read the book, but in the same time, I want to see how Atticus came to be a racist, was he always racist, or did something happened that led him to be racist? I have no idea and I want to know this. But, I am not sure if the book is worth reading at the same.

    By the way, I didn’t read the spoilery part because I don’t want to ruin it in case I decided to read it, but the word has spread about how Atticus is actually racist.

    Great Review!

    Like

    August 12, 2015
  2. TeaBags&Books #

    Great blog by the way. Hopefully, one day my blog would be as cool as this blog. Keep up the amazing job.

    Like

    August 12, 2015
  3. Thank you for reading it and writing a review! Most of the reviews put me off this book very badly and I do not want anything to tarnish the image of TKAM so I’ve decided not to read it. I think I know why Harper Lee hasn’t published for so long….

    Liked by 1 person

    August 12, 2015
  4. Your review confirms all my anticipated feelings about reading the book. The “alternative universe” mode was obvious after the first chapter preview, which I did read. I still haven’t decided about the rest of the book, but there are so many good/better books that I need to read.

    Like

    August 12, 2015
  5. Thanks for doing my work for me. I thought I wasn’t go to read the book. Now I know I am not.

    Like

    August 12, 2015
  6. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

    Like

    August 13, 2015
  7. So many people see Atticus as a racist. I see him as a realist. As a Watchman he goes to the meetings to see who is behind the sheets. Living in a small town he can’t afford to reveal his hand–he has to appear as if he is a part of the game, in order to know the players. As for being a racist? Jean Louise states she grew up colorblind. In order to have accomplished that, Atticus would have had to mightily restrain his attitudes around her. Harper Lee gave us Atticus in a shining suit of armor in TKAM. In GSAW we see him put that armor on, one pant leg at a time–he’s human, not a pedestal dweller, after all.

    Like

    August 14, 2015
  8. Alice #

    I echo your comments. I think I would love to teach a writing class using To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman as texts. What editing will do for a writer…

    Like

    August 19, 2015
  9. I agree with a lot of your comments and definitely see Go Set a Watchman as a “draft” or a step along the path to a much better destination: To Kill a Mockingbird. But, having said that, I think it paints a more realistic view of the south and southern racist attitudes at that time, and of Atticus, given the time and the place, and wonder what might have happened had Harper Lee returned to her earlier draft (The Watchman) and the older Jean Louise, who is able to see her father and his imperfections in a way that the younger Scout could not. I’ve written some more thoughts on The Watchman here, if you’re interested: http://www.suzannefishermurray.com/from-go-set-a-watchman-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

    Like

    August 20, 2015
  10. Karen F #

    I absolutely love reading your blog even though I’m a little behind. Haven’t read Watchman yet but am hoping to with fairly low expectations as TKAM is one of my favourite books. One thing I was thinking about your review is how much it would be affected by the fact that your been exclusively reading the best books in the English language for the past few years. Your standards must be pretty high at this point? Just something to think about.

    Like

    September 10, 2015
  11. Glad I found your blog, your review sounds like exactly like one I would have written after I read the book. And that memorable line was a good one! I agree with what you said, I was disappointed with the book, but I am still glad I read it and I still have respect for Harper Lee!! Looking forward to reading more posts on your blog. I LOVE books!!

    Like

    March 11, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Go Set A Watchman Read in a Parallel Universe | Barefoot Whispers
  2. Next Up: Midnight’s Children | 101 Books
  3. A Round Up of Harper Lee Content | 101 Books

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