The release of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee was hailed as the literary event of the year, nay decade. Everybody was always going to have an opinion of course. In fact a lot of people had an opinion on whether it should even have been released at all, claiming that Lee did not have the capacity to be able to make such a decision. The manuscript had been rediscovered having previously been buried away at her request. I think it’s fair to say that its release was controversial. None of us really know the full story as to how it finally came to be published but of course, that doesn’t stop one man and his dog having an opinion on the matter. I include myself in that of course. The irony of me writing that here on my blog is not lost on me.
Personally, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait for it to hit the bookshelves. I pre-ordered the book months before its release. I hadn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird since I was at school but it was a book that had always stayed with me. A rare thing indeed. So I actually re-read Mockingbird in anticipation of the release of Go Set A Watchman and found myself being blown away all over again. It really is an astonishing book.
There was so much hype at the time of Go Set A Watchman being released though that it actually put me off reading it right away. All that hype and excitement and speed reading through the night actually left me feeling cold. I figured we had waited this long to read it, what was the hurry? I really didn’t want my thoughts to be clouded by the hype. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people in such a hurry to tell the world about a book. It felt strangely competitive. And then of course we had the outpourings of all that was wrong with the book. Poor Harper Lee, no wonder she had sat on it for so long. Maybe she feared that this would always be the case? I found it really quite endearing that people were so attached to Atticus Finch. On the other hand, it really is absurd to think that as a reader, you can somehow ‘own’ a fictional character and think you know him better than the writer who created him. Some people really don’t get the whole fiction thing, do they? Mind boggling really.
But read it I did. When the children were all back at school and I could enjoy it in peace. I think I owed it that much at least. It has been said so many times but despite the chronology and references to Scout’s childhood, it is not technically a sequel and I think this is where some people have viewed Watchman unfairly. This was Lee’s first draft and Mockingbird would never have come about without this. She wrote this first then went on to write Mockingbird so it’s important to see this as a completely separate book. Yes, it is a little scattered at times but that is completely forgivable and actually, I think adds to its charm. Go Set A Watchman is much more complex and asks difficult questions about a time in American history that quite frankly, I still struggle to get my head around. I thought it was outstanding. Maybe it’s not quite as likeable as Mockingbird but it’s an incredible book in its own right. In actual fact, its rawness made me appreciate and love To Kill A Mockingbird even more.
Have you read it yet? If you haven’t, forget the mixed reviews and ignore all the hype. Just read it for yourself and make up your own mind. You’ll see.