Go Set A Watchman is commonly referred to as the sequel to Harper Lee’s first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, however, it is, in fact, the first draft that Harper Lee calls the ‘parent’ book.
In a nutshell, Go Set a Watchman reads like a disappointing sequel: there is scarcely a plot and the majority of the book feels like it was written to fill in the blanks for those who hadn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird. So the fact that this was written first makes it all the more perplexing.
I couldn’t help but feel this book should never have been published as a prequel/sequel (if at all) and would have been better as an anniversary edition of ‘notes’ providing insight into how Harper Lee first saw the characters etc.
I desperately wanted this to be as amazing as Mockingbird but it pales in comparison; the lack of mystery and solid storyline made it quite dull and mundane. Whilst the tease of colourful childhood flashbacks were enjoyable tales in their own right, I often found them to be distracting and lacking context. The biggest disappointment was that the characters simply aren’t as interesting in their adult lives:
Jean Louise Finch (‘Scout’) frustrated me with her ignorance, something that is forgivable and almost cute in a child, but irritating when the character you fell in love with should have amounted to so much more. Her sass was still as enjoyable as ever, though.
The biggest controversy surrounding this book is the portrayal of Atticus Finch as a racist, under this very thin plot veil of Scout learning that her father isn’t the omniscient being she had revered her whole life. If you were to consider this book by itself, Atticus does little to conjure respect from his readers and, therefore, it is harder to follow the storyline of his ‘humanisation’ without any true understanding of how great his character is supposed to be. I just can’t align with this new light on his character, but perhaps that is due to sentimental attachments to his portrayal in Mockingbird.
Jem is notably absent and Calpurnia is used intermittently throughout the book, towards the end in a rather sad and unexpected position.
Despite its flaws, I relished the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Harper Lee’s style of writing. Her use of vocabulary, from the choice of words to the expansion of meaning using witty vernacular, is mesmerising. Her descriptions are so frank and honest, as though she were telling you herself as she sees it, yet they’re neither over simplistic in their honesty nor elaborate in their beauty or dexterity.
Overall though, a very disappointing read.
On a positive note, I look forward to re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, to remind myself how quietly poignant and remarkable it really is.