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Friday, July 24, 2015

Go Set A Watchman (spoilers)

I read Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" twice. First time, I must have been in high school. More recently, when Jen was reading it for her English class, and I wanted to be able to help her get through the book and her assignments. I won't say that it's my favorite, but I did like it. A lot. The prose was beautiful, Lee's rambling style as she described the town, its history, local legends, her oh so real depictions of how children relate to each other, so wonderfully written. The story, so inspiring. All the makings of a classic.

And she never published another book.

Until now.

"Go Set A Watchman" was actually written before "Mockingbird", the publisher rejected the manuscript but helped Lee develop the characters and storyline into the book that eventually became the classic. I was excited to hear the book was being published, and concerned about what changes there might be to the story. And after I read the book reviews, I wasn't sure I wanted to know ...

Well, I read it.

The most noticeable difference, of course, is that while both books are written from Scout's point of view, "Mockingbird" is written in the first person, an adult Scout reminiscing about events in her childhood. "Watchman", written in the third person, is a story about an adult Scout visiting her childhood home, with occasional flashbacks to events during her childhood.

"Watchman" is very bare bones, you can see themes developing in the story, elements that would eventually find their way into "Mockingbird", but the focus is very different. The central elements of "Watchman" are Scout's disillusionment with the father she idolized (the noble Atticus Finch is revealed as a racist) and the conflicts between Scout and various members of her family. The rape trial, one of the major events in "Mockingbird", is not central to the storyline, and is only mentioned in passing.

I enjoyed reading the book. Lee's prose was beautiful, as always. The flashbacks to Scout's childhood were the best scenes in the book, you can see why the publisher encouraged Lee to rewrite the story and develop the storyline as a memoir of Scout's childhood. While it was an interesting read from a scholarly perspective, as a prequel/sequel to "Mockingbird", it was lacking. As a stand-alone novel, it would not have become the classic that Lee's story ultimately became.

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