Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Post date: Oct 06, 2015 5:45:50 PM

Go Set a Watchman came out in July, many years after it was sent to a publisher in 1957 and rejected. Lee’s editor, impressed by some of the writing, saw in the story of Jean Louise Finch (Scout) returning to her home town of Maycomb, Alabama for a holiday from her job in New York, a glimpse of a different novel, to be published in 1960 as To Kill a Mockingbird.

The new ‘novel’ is an unedited first draft and not, as the publishers claimed, a sequel. An independent bookshop in Michigan has even offered a full refund to customers who it feels were duped by this marketing.

In Go Set a Watchman there are three occasions where Jean Louise recalls detailed memories of her childhood twenty years before with her brother Jem, their friend Dill, father Atticus and cook and mother substitute Calpurnia. In these, two of which I found funny, the spirited tomboy Scout’s confused notions of the adult world are endearing and it is these pictures of Scout’s childhood that her editor found most compelling.

I enjoyed the first part of the book but once Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet of her father’s it changes direction. The pamphlet leads her to a meeting of Maycomb County Citizens Council at the local courthouse where she hears Atticus introduce a speaker who spouts foul and shocking racist phrases. The stunned Jean Louise remembers as a child sitting in that same courtroom listening to her father defending a black man who he knew was innocent of a rape charge, the case that would later form the heart of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman could be of interest to anyone who has enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird. If you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird but are now curious I suggest you read (or maybe skim through) Go Set a Watchman first, and then see how the much loved, much greater prize winning novel emerged from it.