“Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee
(First publication: 2015 / This edition: Harper Collins 2015)
Taken with gerbera flowers I got at a market near our house
As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man,
history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons. (p.197)
I pre-ordered this months in advance on the Book Depository—but (surprise, surprise) it still arrived pretty late and turns out my local bookstore already had them in stock on the day of the release. Annoyed. But the time it finally got to me, the internet was already exploding with criticism about the book, the publishers, and sadly, Harper Lee. Since the articles were ubiquitous on all my social media platforms, I couldn’t “ignore” them. Knowing what was to be expected—and the disappointments of what was expected—I ended up putting off reading it for a while.
I started reading it after the kerfuffle died down a little and decided to approach it with a blank slate. I dove in as if I had never heard of “To Kill a Mockingbird” before; I did not know who Scout, Atticus, Jem, and Calpurnia were; I did not know anything about Maycomb County. (Though I had fingers crossed that I’d hear some more about Boo Radley.)
Approaching it like that—the story was actually pretty fine. I enjoyed bits of it and Scout Finch is one feisty, fiery character. Maycomb County has its quirky people, still in the generation where racism was “a norm”. Issues of racism, social classes, self-identity, and social expectations are raised and questioned. You come to understand the mindset of different people in this “small town life”, where everyone knows each other and a lot of them are related. Scout Finch struggles between her Maycomb County beliefs vs. New York City beliefs. The story didn’t blow my mind and there were many parts where I drifted off and couldn’t focus. The writing style can sometimes be hard to follow—but that’s understandable if it’s true about “Go Set a Watchman” being “just a draft”.
I have mixed feelings about it being published. I’m glad I read it—but a side of me wishes they had never published this one and made such a big deal about it for months. I feel like publishing this was just a way of exploiting Harper Lee. I feel sad that she’s already at such an old age and this book kind of tainted her reputation from “To Kill a Mockingbird”. It breaks my heart when I see comments of people judging her and questioning her writing skills and talent just basing it on this draft. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is still one of my favorite novels and it will forever be a masterpiece to me.
I’d recommend it, but…go in with a blank slate and don’t expect that it will be exactly the same as what you felt in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. And for Harper Lee’s sake and footprint in our literary world, don’t judge her on this. Remember how “To Kill a Mockingbird” is such an amazing, intense read and keep those good feelings you have about her. 🙂
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
Recorded history’s version does not coincide with the truth, but these are the facts, because they were passed down by word of mouth through the years. (p.9)
She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him. (p.13)
Love’s the only thing in this world that is unequivocal. There are different kinds of love, certainly, but it’s a you-do or you-don’t proposition with them all. (p.15)
When a man’s looking down the double barrel of a shotgun, he picks up the first weapon he can find to defend himself, be it a stone or a stick of stovewood or a citizen’s council. (p.200)