Last weekend I finished Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. If you’ve been living under a rock and missed THE literary event of the year, let me summarize. Go Set a Watchman was written by Lee prior to To Kill A Mockingbird and involves the characters in TKAM, but twenty years after the events of TKAM (written before, but set after, got it?). Lee shelved Go Set a Watchman, but pulled out a some scenes and characters for To Kill a Mockingbird. Now Go Set a Watchman is published.
First let’s talk about the writing. This is no To Kill a Mockingbird. I thought the book started strong and really shone when Lee was writing about Jean Louise’s – aka Scout’s – childhood. Towards the last 50 pages the book feels rushed and ends too neatly. It suffers a bit from what I like to call John Galtism. You know, that chapter in Atlas Shrugged when Ayn Rand goes on at great length with a philosophical speech. That happens, lots of explaining and lecturing instead of “showing” the reader. The rest of the writing is pretty spectacular and lovely, but certainly uneven. Let’s say 3 stars, maybe 3.5 stars for writing.
Here is where reviewing this book gets super tricky for me. I know that despite the grim outcomes of To Kill A Mockingbird we have have Atticus as a very clear good guy (still problematic in regards to race). Of course all of this goes out the window in Go Set a Watchman. Atticus is more than problematic and
Scout Jean Louise is the moral compass. She is visiting from New York and finds the post-Brown vs. Board of Education South frightening in its racism and longing for segregation. Although not as pronounced as the racial tension, Go Set a Watchman also address sexism and class discrimination and there are some great points illustrating intersectionality in the book (Hank feels more pressure to conform the town’s wishes because he is from “trash” and Scout has more control of her life because she is a higher class… a lower class woman would be expected to conform). Segregation and racial tensions are the primary subject and this Southern reader felt like she was getting punched in the gut throughout most of the book. Without spiraling this review into a laundry list of how uncannily relevant and timely this book is let me say that the confederate flag debate and Charleston shooting alone made this a painful read. Scout is appalled that “good” people… people she loves… have deep seated prejudices and are completely unaware of their own hateful ignorance. I wish I could have read Go Set a Watchman and walked away thinking I read an okay book that expressed some antiquated opinions of a time long passed. That didn’t happen. 5 stars for emotional wallop and relevance.
I’m both glad I read it and really wished I hadn’t read it.
~~~ Stats ~~~
Started: 14 July 2015
Finished: 19 July 2015
Stars: 4 stars. 3 for writing, 5 for timeliness and emotional wallop