book review · the book club

Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2016
Edition: Trade Paperback, 278 pages

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Synopsis:

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch – “Scout” – returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of hte illusions of the past – a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision – a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

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Review:

This is the book club selection for November. In preparation for this novel, I did a little research to provide a proper introduction to it for my book club members. And what I found out was really helpful and allowed me to consider certain things about the novel that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • Harper Lee had written Go Set a Watchman and submitted it to her editor who suggested that she write more about Scout’s childhood. That actually became the start of To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Although some of the characters and story lines match up, it is definitely not a direct sequel and should not be read as such.

Why are these points important? Because there are inconsistencies between the two novels that you can’t help but notice. Knowing that it was never ended to be a sequel – it wasn’t even written as such – allowed me to enjoy both novels as its own novel. If anything, reading Go Set a Watchman allowed me to appreciate Harper Lee’s writing more in To Kill a Mockingbird, when I consider the changes and choices she made to the characters and story.

Scout – Jean Louise – is still Scout to me in my mind. That was the hardest part to reconcile in this book. The eight-year-old little girl from To Kill a Mockingbird is now a grown working woman living in New York now. But there are still things about her that remind us of Scout. Especially her views and relationship with her father, Atticus. In this, as a reader, I felt that I could really connect to Jean Louise. How growing up oftentimes means the disillusionment of our parents. Of realizing how human the adults and role models of our lives are.

Atticus was the biggest shock of all. Or rather, some of the content and opinions that characters in the novel had came as a shock. Not that the content itself is shocking. But perhaps who it was coming from. Atticus has always been one of my literary heroes – and this novel definitely humanized him. And while I don’t agree with this Atticus that is presented – I can also understand Harper Lee’s need to show us Atticus’ “dark side”, if you will excuse the expression.

For fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, I cautiously recommend reading this novel. Speaking as someone who loved To Kill a Mockingbird, I found that reading Go Set a Watchman helped me appreciate To Kill a Mockingbird more. But I’m still on the fence as to whether that means I enjoyed Go Set a Watchman. It’s hard to form a review and opinion about the novel on its own without considering the other novel. On its own, it provides a great insight into a different era – both the good and the bad. And for that, Harper Lee has always done for me. We don’t have to like every character. We don’t have to agree with what some of the characters believe. But we do have to hear it out and realize that these opinions do exist in the world – and decide for ourselves where we stand.

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