Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Go Set a Watchman: Starting thoughts

So, as you remember, my friend Ashlee asked me to read Go Set a Watchman for her, and tell her whether or not to read it. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of her all-time favorite books, and she didn't want to read Go Set a Watchman if it was going to ruin TKAM for her in any way.

I started GSAW just before the craziness of Christmas. Because it's a new release, the loan period at the library was short, so I only got to page 77 or so before it came due. I haven't got back to the library to check it out again yet.

Here's my judgement so far: Don't read it Ashlee.

photo & art by Alysa Stewart

I will keep reading it, because it's the book club book this month, and because I feel like I should read the whole thing to evaluate it fairly. But if it weren't for these two things I'd be content to let it lie.

The writing: The writing is unequivocally not as good as the writing in TKAM. As I was rereading that one I was like "Yeah, there's a reason this one won the Pulizer. Darn right." GSAW . . . not so much. One of the huge differences between the books is that Scout narrates in one and a third person narrator does the job in the other. There are definitely awesome books that use both of these perspectives, but GSAW is falling flat for me and this is part of why.

The continuity: It's obvious to me that this book was written before TKAM, because some of the continuity is odd. Aunt Alexandra has come to live with Atticus now that it's just him at home. And Scout and Aunt Alexandra rubbed each other the wrong way when she first showed up. It's like Aunt Alexandra never came when Scout was young. Because yeah, Harper Lee hadn't decided that that would be better yet. Also Aunt Alexandra and her husband (what's his name again?) lived in Maycomb all along? Not at Finch Landing? So . . . that's kind of weird.

I don't know how Harper Lee felt about Go Set a Watchman being published -- the publication of GSAW was controversial. But I can tell you that GSAW definitely reads like an early draft of TKAM. It feels more like watching all the outtakes from a movie than like watching a sequel or even a companion piece.

Aaand now I just read this spoilerific article that was linked to from the other New York Times article. Maybe I won't finish it. Ain't nobody got time for that. Correction: only English majors who want to compare a first draft with a final draft have time for that. I feel like some of GSAW is probably a legitimate representation of how Harper Lee feels the story turned out (I'm thinking of one specific spoiler here, do you want to hear it Ashlee?) but I feel like most of it was just what she had to write in order to get to the masterpiece she eventually published.

Leave me your thoughts, below. Especially you, Ashlee, but I want to know what the rest of you are thinking, too.
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previous posts in this series:
one
two

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