Go Set a Watchman Blog Tour

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman follows Jean Louise “Scout” Finch as she returns to her hometown, Maycomb, Alabama. Yearly, she travels from New York to Alabama, and the novel opens with her long train ride. Jean Louise muses about the past, blogger-image--1888984075surrounded by loved ones and friends, for a large chunk of the beginning of this novel.

Once home, she unearths secrets about her father, Atticus Finch, an attorney and former legislator. Discovering harsh truths, she breaks ties that held Maycomb close to her heart and her inner child alive and naïve, despite being in her early twenties. This revelation in adulthood gives her an eye-opening understanding of her past, present, and her heritage as a Southern woman as the Civil Rights Movement takes shape.

The most prominent theme here is racism. Jean Louise’s altercation with Atticus and Henry “Hank” Clinton–Jean Louise’s love interest and Atticus’s junior partner in his law firm–about their resistance to the NAACP in Alabama is exacerbated by her father’s long-standing ties with the KKK. An interesting aspect is that the issue of race was brought into Atticus’ home. The story shows how it affected a young woman who had such high opinions of her father, then became crushed by the truth.

I read a fascinating analysis of the symbols used in this novel. For instance, the title itself refers to the Biblical Isaiah 21:6. “For thus hath that Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” — King James version.

Early interpretations assert that the watchman refers to Atticus, and how he serves to undermine the morality with which Jean Louise had oriented herself in the world. It could also be said that Jean Louise herself becomes her own watcher, observing the world through her own eyes rather than her father’s. Her nickname “Scout” seems to favor the idea that scouts range ahead to see what’s coming. Which makes me wonder if Lee was intentional in her decision to give her this nickname. My guess is that she knew exactly what she was doing with these symbols, and that is truly commendable.

That said, this novel does not follow contemporary structure. In that, there is no real hook, large chunks of backstory, continuity issues, and the entire beginning is mainly musings with very little tension. Other than when she locks herself in her bunkroom and can’t get out. Which, honestly, didn’t work for me.

I will say, a large part of the problems I had with this novel is that I was expecting a crime novel. This story is more of a politically, racially-motivated family drama. And those who enjoy this type of story will find much to like. For me, reading an unedited first draft is not something I’d do twice.

Many loved this novel, however, so please take my comments at face-value. This is only one opinion…mine. I don’t normally review books that I can’t in good conscience give at least four stars. To shred someone’s hard work goes against everything I hold dear, but I also refuse to lie and tell you this book kept me up nights, flipping pages.

I’ll leave you with this. To Kill a Mockingbird is such a cherished piece of literary history. If you want to see what Harper Lee envisioned for what happens next, Go Set a Watchman is definitely worth the read. If you’d rather not ruin your memories, then perhaps skipping this sequel is best.

Your call.

Next, we’ll continue with the series Murder at Cabin 28.

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16 Comments

  1. Sue: Thanks for participating in the tour. I agree the book is not well crafted. At the same time I found the story interesting. I was intrigued that Lee did not leave the characters static. I wonder how many other authors would have had such a shift in the character of Atticus.

    I doubt her family put pressure upon Lee. Her older sister Alice, who practised law until she was 100, died about a year before the decision was made to publish the book. Her current lawyer, who worked with her sister Alice, was deeply involved in the publication.

    • That’s wonderful to hear, Bill. The thought of someone taking advantage of such a talented writer makes me sick. I, too, appreciated how well-crafted the characters were, and Jean Louise and Hank’s playful banter was so fun. As I said in my post, there’s much to like about the book. I heard, but don’t quote me, that the shift in Atticus’ image in To Kill a Mockingbird was suggested by Lee’s publisher, and that TKAMB was actually a flash-forward scene originally and they wanted Lee to expand it into a novel.

  2. Thanks for sharing. This is not the first review I’ve read of this book (not that I’m going after them, but a few friends of mine wrote reviews about it) and I’m still not convinced I’ll read it.

    Honestly, this seems to me more a commercial operation than anything else. It’s a first draft, Lee completely changed her idea about the story, how to tell it, what to tell. As we know fully well, because we’ve written first drafts ourselves, first drafts aren’t the story. The story is at the end of a very long, soul-searching path strewn of attempts, rewrites, restructuring, reshaping.
    I don’t think this is it.

    As I said elsewhere, I think this may be intersting for fans of Lee, but I don’t think it can offer much to any other reader.

  3. Great review, and I was very interested to read what you said about symbolism, something I hadn’t really thought of when I was reading it. I do agree with you – you certainly can’t whole-heartedly recommend it as a book everyone should read!

    • No, I really couldn’t. Which saddens me. I don’t like to review books I don’t feel comfortable recommending. Nonetheless, I’m so found of the people that were involved with the blog tour that it was a fun experience. I’m glad you liked the review, Moira.

  4. I haven’t read this one and probably won’t but I think you gave an insightful review. It’s pretty much in line with what I’ve heard a lot of other readers say, too. Very well presented, Sue.

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful review, Sue. I’ve been on the fence about whether to read this, and your review has convinced me not to. Here was the clincher line for me: “…reading an unedited first draft is not something I’d do twice.” You’ve done the dirty work and read it once for me. Now I don’t need to. 🙂

  6. This is a candid and inciteful review, Sue. I take it that if it wasn’t for Harper Lee’s name, this manuscript would never have made it from the slush pile.

  7. Thanks, Sue, for your candor and for your thorough discussion here! I think you’ve nailed the symbolism used in the book perfectly, and I’m sure you’re right that Lee did that quite intentionally. I think you’re right, too, that the story structure is not at all conventional. And it’s certainly not the sort of story structure that you find in a crime novel. Thanks very much for being a part of this tour 🙂

    • My pleasure, Margot. The symbolism was truly remarkable. It definitely got my literary juices flowing. To see how a Pulitzer prize novelist uses symbolism, even back then, was a remarkable experience.

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