I’ve been dragging my feet writing this post and just as I suspected, the hype, hoopla, and reviews of Go Set A Watchman have settled down, if not gone away altogether. As they should.
Imagine if Universal Studios got their hands on one of Steven Spielberg’s 8mm teenage attempts at filmmaking. Now imagine if they took one of those movies, burned it to DVD, and sold it as “Steven Spielberg’s Lost Movie.” I’m not sure it would sell well. I’m pretty sure it was never intended for public viewing. Maybe some die-hard fans or curiosity seekers would buy, but most of us would continue to enjoy the massive body of quality work he already has out there.
Harper Lee and her original publisher never intended Go Set A Watchman to see the light of day. It was a rejected draft, that inspired and eventually became To Kill A Mockingbird. Unfortunately, Harper Lee didn’t have anything else out there. She became this elusive, mysterious person living under the guidance and protection of her close relatives. The world wanted more.
Harper Lee’s sister, Alice Lee – an Alabama lawyer, took care of most of her legal affairs. She passed away in November of 2014. On 3 February 2015, Harper Collins announced they had acquired the manuscript and the rights to publish Go Set A Watchman.
Despite the reports that Harper Lee was thrilled to have her book published, I can’t shake the feeling that a wrong was done.
These are the reservations I carried with me as I read the novel. Since I distrusted the acquisition of the draft and motivation for publishing, I was also less inclined to believe that the publisher left the manuscript as they found it. Therefore, it is hard to review or comment on a novel surrounded by so many questions.
I can only share my impressions….
~ At times it reads like fan-fiction. (My first reaction when Hank, who was never mentioned in TKAM, shows up as Scout’s love interest.)
~ There were discrepancies in some details that indicated a need for more editing such as: references to the house they grew up in, and the time-frame of Cal’s departure from the household. (this would support the claim that they published it “as is”)
~ I don’t “buy” Scout as Jean Louise. I’ve read other reviewers who claim that the character reads exactly as they would have expected Scout to be as a grown-up, because it was just like her. That is precisely the problem. How many of us act just like our 6,7,8 year old self? I certainly expect Jean Louise to have the spunk and personality of Scout, but so often in the book, she acts like a petulant child, rather than a mature young woman.
~ It tries too hard to be a racially controversial novel with Jean Louise/Harper Lee constantly moralizing to the readers. TKAM reported life, as it happened, through the eyes of a child. We heard and saw the clear message and injustice in the world without petulant speeches.
All this being said…am I glad I read it? Absolutely.
In the author/publishing world this book was the biggest news of the year, and I choose to be relevant. And…despite my complaints, there were parts where I lost myself in the story and fully enjoyed Harper Lee’s prose.
Even as Go Set A Watchman falls off the bestseller lists and turns up on dusty shelves in used bookstores, it has given us an invaluable glimpse into the life and work of a writer. We have seen what usually remains hidden…the first envisioning, the first ideas, the first completed draft of a novel that through many revisions and reworkings became the Pulitzer prize winning book To Kill A Mockingbird.