Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (Book Review)

While I still feel like I was peeking into someone’s windows, three days in to NaNoWriMo was the perfect time for me to read this book, a less-than-stellar bit from a talented writer. It reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect, because while talent is one thing, the creative process is a process, that takes time and reworking and patience and coming back to gently nudge and prod into shape without giving up. So for that, Harper Lee, I thank you.

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Now I wish I hadn’t read this book.

I respond to controversy by diving right into it. This is not a banned book, but my reaction was the same: I want to read it myself, to see for myself.

I’ve read of the kerfuffle over its publication. Despite the official finding that no elder abuse of Ms. Lee took place, I am still deeply bothered by tales of her isolation from visitors and her adamant statements that she would not publish another novel. It seems rather convenient that she changed her mind only a few months after the death of her very protective sister and transfer of control of her affairs to other hands. No, I don’t know what’s true and what’s not, but thought of her being taken advantage of angers me.

After reading it for myself I am of the mind that no, this is not a separate novel from To Kill a Mockingbird. The seeds are here, including the the glossed-over story of Tom Robinson, with different players and a different outcome. Jean Louise Finch as a grown woman has many flashbacks to her childhood in Maycomb, and it’s easy to see why the child Scout was given the voice to tell the story, because those were the richest parts, the ones that read like the Harper Lee I love from TKAM.

There is gold here certainly:

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

Yes, authors produce books that are not of the quality of their magnum opus, but that’s not what Go Set a Watchman feels like to me. It does not feel like a sequel, and it does not feel like a companion. The writing is not as luminous, the plot is loose, the intricacies and subtleties of love and prejudice and family and home and hate are not painted with the fine strokes we know from TKAM. This is not a criticism of Harper Lee; with GSAW we are merely reading an earlier part of her creative process. It doesn’t take anything away from the literary masterpiece it was worked into, that I will always love. But GSAW feels like a beginning, like something that was not published before because it was not meant to be.

Now I almost feel like I read someone else’s diary. I am very sorry, Harper Lee.

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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