Writing About Go Set a Watchman

Stacked copes of Go Set a WatchmanI am working again on a short review of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s recently published first novel, and my work isn’t going anywhere. In fact…I might have to read that book again. And I’m not really in the mood for that. So indulge me for a minute…

Written over fifty years ago, Go Set a Watchman would have been Harper Lee’s first novel, but the publisher asked her to write another focusing on the childhood of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the novel’s well-known protagonist from To Kill a Mockingbird, the subsequent book Harper Lee wrote for publication. (That was a hell of a sentence…)

If Go Set a Watchman had been published first, I doubt we would have To Kill a Mockingbird today.

Back Dust Jack Go Set a WatchmanThe story’s narrative is an ironic one. It begins in a state of familiarity and security, filled with nostalgia and comfort and unwinds from there. This is not a story of clarity and achievement. Instead it is one of ambiguity and resignation. It is a novel of fatalism, rather than agency. In short, there are no heroes in this story. There isn’t really any resolution, either…no real denouement. Instead the story hops, jumps, and wanders to a vague conclusion.

Some people might be troubled by the psuedo-philosophical musings regarding identity politics. However I think this is the most interesting part of the novel. The very processes of identity used to justify Scout’s place in her community are very much still in use today. It is a weird apologetics that feels like it is coming straight from the cuff and onto the page as if Harper Lee is thinking about these things for the first time as she writes.

Then the book ends with some creepy questions raised and unanswered.

Read the book!


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