Friday, August 7, 2015

Review: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Publication Date: July 14th, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
278 pages


From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

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 a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's 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.


What Did I Think About the Story?

As soon as I heard a "new" novel by Harper Lee was coming out I instantly pre-ordered it. This is unusual for me as I tend to wait until closer to publication to order books by favorite authors or even wait until well after publication for those I know I will eventually want to read, but being that To Kill A Mockingbird is in the top five of my favorite novels of all time I knew I wanted it in my hands as soon as possible. After ordering it I began to read all the negative hype and backlash towards the book (I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about) and saw many fellow readers declaring they would not buy or read this novel that turned one of the iconic perfect fathers in literature into a racist. While I can completely understand their hurt and anger (I also grew up feeling Atticus was a shining example of what a man should be) I have never been one to shy away from reading something just because the subject matter might be hard to read or others seem against it. Without reading it I wouldn't be able to form my own opinion on its content or really know how it would affect my appreciation for To Kill A Mockingbird. So I dug in and devoured it at every free moment I had. Am I happy I read it? 100%. This is a wonderful companion to Harper Lee's classic work of art and, as the synopsis states, adds depth to those characters we all grew up loving.

When the novel opens, Jean Louise Finch is returning home to Maycomb, Alabama for her yearly two week visit. She's grown used to the big city and, while she has fond memories of the small town she grew up in and grudging respect for this place that never seems to change, from the get-go she seems almost ready for the visit to be over. There are things that pull on her to come home and stay - her father, her beau - but she's not sure if that's the life she wants. Then she discovers that none of the people, including the father that she's always kept on a pedestal of righteousness, are who she thought they were. I really don't want to give away too much about the actual plot, but suffice it to say that what she discovers regarding the opinions and beliefs of those she has cherished are not what she thought they were and she goes on the warpath to let her great indignation and disgust be known before she plans to leave for good. This isn't the end of the story and I won't give away how it ends but this is the main focus.

What I loved most about Go Set A Watchman was the way that everything Jean Louis was experiencing, every burst of shock, anger and disbelief, so well mirrored what I was feeling. How could these people not be who they had always been? Why had they changed? What has happened to bring about this great shift in reality? The answer, simply, is that nothing has actually changed other than the rose-tinted glasses of youth (which was what To Kill A Mockingbird was viewed through) have been removed and in the light of maturity and understanding this is the actual reality it has been all along.  Jean Louise, and we readers, are faced with the fact that no one is perfect and everyone is human and therefore flawed. This might be hard to swallow but it is true. The real test of maturity, and what Jean Louise comes to realize, is that we are each responsible for our own beliefs, opinions and actions and, while we can do everything we can to influence other people and try to show them the "correct" way to be, each individual is responsible for themselves and must face the choices and consequences that brings.  The overall theme I was left with after turning the last page is what is written in the Serenity Prayer: you must have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change (other people's beliefs), the courage to change the things you can (change the laws governing our society and punish those that break those laws) and the wisdom to know the difference. We shouldn't change our beliefs for anyone else and we shouldn't expect the reverse either. The key is to try to present information and reasonable arguments to influence those around us and, by doing so, illicit the changes that are needed. Burying your head in the sand or screaming your disgust and running away from a problem is never going to give you the results you want, but by rationally presenting your opinions and valid solutions to the issues you at least stand a chance at making a difference. Easier said that done, I know, especially when faced with views and opinions many of us find disgusting and heinous, but there you have it.

Do I think Go Set A Watchman is as good as To Kill A Mockingbird? No, not at all but I don't think that is necessarily a fair comparison either, especially given the fact that the latter  novel is such a treasure to me. However, I did enjoy seeing so many of these beloved characters again, even if I wasn't happy with all of them, and there were many lines I read over and over because they were beautifully written. This is an accurate depiction of many small Southern towns during the Civil Rights movement and presents a realistic view of the good and the bad that you would have found there. Harper Lee is a remarkable writer and I can only hope that she did intend for this  novel to be published (another one of those rumors floating around). I'll be thinking about this one for a while to come.


What Do I Think About the Cover?      

I like the sort of vintage style but other than that it doesn't really do anything for me. The author's  name is what would draw me to this one, no matter what the cover looked like.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

What do you guys think? Have any of you read Go Set A Watchman yet? If so, what are your opinions about it? If not, do you plan to? Now that I've read it I'm really curious to hear what other people think! No spoilers please and be respectful of everyone's opinion (I wanted to add that just in case...I've read some pretty heated arguments about this one!).


  1. I'll wait for a while for the buzz to die down before reading it, but I am intrigued.