Go Set A Watchman-Book Review: A Rarely Enjoyable First Draft The Classic, To Kill A Mockingbird


Courtesy of kobo.com

Siraj Bajwa, Writer

Go Set a Watchman is technically to first draft of To Kill A Mockingbirdbut it has been called a sequel for taking place after the events of TKAM. Author Harper Lee wrote about 26-year old Scout coming home to Maycomb, where everything has changed. Lee’s editor thought the best parts of Watchman were the flashback sequences to Scout’s childhood and convinced Lee to rewrite her novel, focusing on Scout’s childhood. The first draft was lost for years, but was found recently and published in 2015. As someone who has just finished the novel, I can say Lee’s editor made a good call. Watchman  is a mostly boring, confusing version of TKAM. 

Watchman has a terrible problem of dragging on boring dialogue that really doesn’t contribute to the story. It feels like that one random person you’ve never met who won’t stop talking about things you don’t care about. Some pages will be Scout’s uncle ranting for many pages, and at the end Scout will say that that didn’t make any sense and her uncle wasn’t answering her question, and the reader has to experience the same thing! Then there’s the fact that I didn’t feel engaged in the story till I was around 100 pages into the story. The first 100 pages are mostly bland, filled with Scout’s homecoming devoid of much thought.

One of the biggest differences between Watchman and TKAM is the character Atticus. If you’ve read the classic novel, or even just have heard discussions about it, you’ll know Atticus Finch is a truthful, kind man of justice who defended a black man in a rape case, even knowing he was doomed to fail. Many look up to this character, striving to be like him. Watchman changes his character immensely. Without going into spoilers, the reader may not recognize the Atticus they read about. The books shows hints of it being the same character, but don’t explain why he is so different.

The same theme of growing up from TKAM is present in Watchman, but in a very tell-not-show way that is anything but seamless. The same problem can be found in the fear of change that Scout has. Themes feel shoehorned into the story.

This novel should not be read as a sequel to TKAM(which I read it as). Two main and beloved characters from the classic are barely mentioned, and occasionally featured in flashbacks. Instead we get a new character named Henry, who is Scout’s lover, but not nearly as lovable or memorable as Jem and Dill. Then there’s the fact that major events from TKAM are actually mentioned, but not given enough significance.

While the novel is mostly boring, there were a few points at which I actually wanted to know what happened next. About 100 pages in, Scout discovers something about Atticus and Henry, and is utterly shocked. Scout’s feelings about this are actually one of the better parts of the story. Her disgust and horror feels real and believable. There limited suspense of why Atticus and Henry have changed, and the answers did not deliver.

Another great aspect of Go Set a Watchman was the few flashbacks to Scout’s childhood. It felt like a glimpse into what made TKAM so great. They mostly describe Scout’s tomboy personality, doing a pretty good job at that. One of the flashbacks about Scout thinking she was pregnant because of being misinformed was actually funny, too.

Overall, Watchman is not a must-read. It’s boring, and doesn’t always make much sense with TKAM in mind. One of it’s characters is very different from the character we know and love from TKAM, and others are missing from the main story entirely. Themes feel shoehorned and aren’t executed well. Although, there are some engaging parts that are interesting, like Scout’s shocking discovery and flashbacks to her childhood, but those make up a small part of the story. Take it from someone who loved TKAM: you don’t need to read this(unless you’re unbearably curious like I was).