April 21, 2021

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I was always disappointed that Harper Lee didn’t have another novel for me to read besides the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. That situation was recently rectified when HarperCollins decided to publish the original novel Lee wrote before Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman.  The story goes that J. B. Lippincott bought this earlier version with the lead character, Scout as a 26 year old woman, but her editor felt it would be more effective to completely rewrite the novel setting it in Scout’s childhood. In truth, Go Set is a first draft and perfectly illustrates how successful re-writing can polish something into Pulitzer prize material like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman seems like a sequel as it portrays Scout, her father Atticus Finch and others twenty years after the events of Mockingbird, but in my opinion these are not quite the same characters in both versions. The Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman is a racist which does not ring true to the same character in Mockingbird.

I initially had trouble getting into Go Set a Watchman, finding the first few chapters unfocused and slow-paced. Harper Lee’s prodigious writing skill is present on every page, however.

Literary buffs may enjoy this recently published work to see the transformation made by Lee and her editor. Casual readers may have a better time skipping Go Set a Watchman and reading or re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird in all of its literary glory.

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