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Go Set a Watchma


Harper Lee

  Harper Collins  
Release Date:


  literary fiction  
Reviewed by:
  Inspector Jason  

Like most fans of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I was conflicted about reading her new publication, Go Set a Watchman, which is reported to be a long lost first draft of her famous novel written before her editor encouraged her to expand on the childhood of her main character, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, due to the circumstances of its rediscovery. I wanted something to occupy my time yesterday while my air conditioning unit was being replaced at my new home, though, and my curiosity about this new book got the best of me.

In terms of prose, Go Set a Watchman lacks the wondrous flow of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the process of reading it feels more "homeworky" to me. The third person narration of this new novel, which follows the adult Jean Louise Finch as she returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York, hits a few speed bumps. Fortunately, this story does have its share of beautifully-written sentences, and there are hints of the gripping storytelling that shines so well in To Kill a Mockingbird.

In terms of story content, Go Set a Watchman is a challenging read, especially for all of us who were inspired greatly by the character of Scout's father, Atticus Finch. In Lee's first novel, we were introduced to Atticus Finch through the childhood memories of his daughter, which may have been clouded with the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia through which most of us view our own childhoods. In this new work, Atticus Finch is revisited from an adult perspective, and we realize that he is a flawed individual in ways that starkly contrast our initial impression (which is understandably reinforced by Gregory Peck's iconic portrayal of him in the 1962 film adaptation). The examinations of "polite racism" in this new novel are uncomfortable to read, but they are quite accurate in terms of showing the growing pains that society has gone through in past decades and that society continues to experience.

Everyone loves the quote from that first novel, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Go Set a Watchman is an ultimate test of our ability to apply this quote to everyone, even to those who possess viewpoints that we find repulsive. Those who are willing to see the good side of everyone and who enjoy interacting with people of opposing beliefs or viewpoints will likely find Go Set a Watchman to be a rewarding experience, even if it does not quite conjure the same page-turning thrills of To Kill a Mockingbird. On the other hand, those who are quick to defriend people on Facebook who post opposing viewpoints to theirs or those who would rather not see flaws in a character whom they have built up as a sacred cow may want to steer clear. I personally believe that Go Set a Watchman, while not as tangible and gratifying as To Kill a Mockingbird in terms of prose, does not diminish my love of that earlier publication in the slightest, and, in fact, I imagine that a comparison of both novels will provide for useful discussions in literature classes and history classes for decades to come.

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