Salt & Fog

The Art of Veronica Casson


Go Set a Watchman

NightstandVeronica CassonComment
“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” 
― Harper LeeGo Set a Watchman

The Book

On the nightstand this week is the much lamented new title by America's (previously?) favorite author, Harper Lee. When Go Set A Watchmen was announced I immediately put a copy on hold at my local book store. I knew whatever the book was going to be, there was no way a forgotten unpublished manuscript was going to stand up next To Kill A Mockingbird. It just wasn't. I really wanted to read it before the bad press came in to get a completely ubiased view of the book. Which was impossible. The bad press was out before I even had my copy in hand. Oh, well.

Being a bibliophile I had to read and mention this book on Salt & Fog. It has been touted as the publishing event of the year after all. In theme with this Oceanside blog I am going to talk about what I liked about the book.

“the time your friends need you is when they’re wrong, Jean Louise. They don’t need you when they’re right—” 
― Harper LeeGo Set a Watchman

What I liked

What really worked to my advantage in being able to enjoy the book was having had learned that Go Set A Watchman was the first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. According to this Vanity Fair article, Harper Lee's publisher/editor liked the flashback scenes in the original story which depicted the protagonist as a child and asked her to rewrite the book with that as the focus focus.
So, in essence Go Set a Watchman is merely the first draft of a much better book. Going in to the novel I  viewed it as a writing exercise. How did this, became that? It is pretty interesting.

Additionally, I really enjoyed the first third of the book. It follows grown up Jean Louise "Scout" Finch leaving New York City to visit her childhood home of Maycomb, Alabama. Being a city girl myself who was brought up in the suburbs, but still visits them every few years, made this part of the story feel very familiar and fun. Lee nailed the mixed sense of charm, nostalgia, and backwardness I feel whenever I visit my family.

Not surprisingly, all of the flashbacks, which are the basis for Mockingbird, were spot on and great. It was sure nice to have some more fun with Jem, Dill and Scout as they darted around the backyards of Maycomb county.

Those are the bits that stood out to me. I do agree with others in that when the major conflicts enter the story, involving racial prejudices, Go Set a Watchmen begins get muddled and loses focus.

“A man can condemn his enemies, but it’s wiser to know them.” 
― Harper LeeGo Set a Watchman

Who I would recommend this to

As I said previously, Go Set a Watchman is best viewed as an interest piece on writing. On its own it does not stand up to To Kill A Mockingbird. So unless you are fascinated with the art of writing you might want to skip it.