Sunday, 26 July 2015

Book Review: Go Set A Watchman (Spoiler free)

Go Set A Watchman has been very very well publicised, not that that's really a surprise when it can be branded as a To Kill A Mockingbird Sequel.

My experience of To Kill a Mockingbird is pretty cliche. I read it at school for my English Lit G.C.S.E. and it quickly became one of my favorite books, and I've gone on to reread it. Despite this, I had pretty mixed feelings when I first heard about Go Set A Watchman.

It's announcement wasn't without controversy; Harper Lee had previously said that she had no plans to release another novel, and it was announced shortly after the death of her sister, and carer, leading to claims that she'd been exploited. However, there are also reports from Harper Lee's Lawyer stating that Lee has been 'hurt and humiliated' by these rumors. The whole thing made me feel pretty uneasy, and I was in two minds about whether I was going to read it. My mum helped me out here, knowing just how indecisive I can be, and pre-ordered it without me knowing.

Basic Plot
Aged 26, Jean Louise Finch (Scout), who now lives in New York, returns home to Maycomb for an annual family visit. Its set against the backdrop of the American civil rights movement, and this social turbulence is echoed in her relationship with family members.

First things first: this was never going to be another To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAMB). To start with, its not even really a sequel. Contextually it was written before, rejected by the publishers, and it then evolved into TKAMB - I see it as a 'pre draft', the plot is different, but it helped to establish characters and setting.

However, there are also differences. Go Set A Watchman is set chronologically after TKAMB, and there are flashbacks to the past, however events that happened in TKAMB don't necessarily have the same outcomes, or get a mention. Go Set A Watchman isn't a carefully constructed sequel, in places the prose isn't as polished as the former novel and neither is the plot - but I'm not going to hold this against it, it was, and remains unfinished.

Does this mean that its bad? Oh no. I just think you have to read it differently. If you read Go Set A Watchman as context for TKAMB, and see it as a little snippet into Harper Lee's writing process its really really interesting. It allows you to gain a small insight into the evolution of her ideas, a teeny tiny window into her thought process.

You get to see what made the cut, and what didn't (and then, what it once was, before it was adapted and reshaped). The opening of chapter four in Go Set A Watchman:
'The town of Maycomb, Alabama, owed its location to the presence of mind of one Sinkfield, who in the early dawning of the country operated an inn where two pig trails met' pretty simmilar to the description in chapter 13 of TKAMB: '
Maycomb would have been closer to the river had it not been for the nimbled-wittedness of one Sinkfeild, who in the dawn of history operated an inn where two pig trails met'

This is also found with the 'formidable' hourglass figure of Aunt Alexandra and a few other contextual bits and pieces. Go Set A Watchman may not be a new literacy classic, but it certainly helped to create the characters and settings that made up the one that I know and love.

One of the biggest, an potentially distressing, differences can be found with Atticus. I don't want to share any spoilers, but essentially he says things that I, and lots of other people' strongly disagree with. The Atticus of TKAMB has been idealised, but in Go Set A Watchman he's more obviously flawed.

This isn't the Atticus that Harper Lee settled with, she changed him and made him into the one we already knew which I find pretty interesting. She wanted Atticus to be a figure of reason and hope, a model of humanity, but Go Set a Watchman is a reminder that even with these traits, he was a man, not a god, who was influenced by his time and society - and that isn't really a bad thing.

I found Go Set A Watchman to be a really interesting reading experience. It wasn't a finished novel so I find it hard to really 'rate' it, but it definitely hasn't altered my opinion of TKAMB or taken away any of my respect for Harper Lee, or Atticus for that matter. If you read the book as context to TKAMB , as opposed to a sequel, then your not setting yourself up to be disappointed.

I would love to know your thoughts if you've given this a read, or if you have any reasons for not wanting to!

I also wrote a quick review for this on my goodreads account, which is the place to be if you want to follow my reading.

No comments

Post a Comment

Comment below and I'll do my best to reply :)

© Lucadonta . All rights reserved.