In case you hadn’t heard, Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) has put out a new novel. It is a sequel of sorts to her earlier work. Now, early reviews were mixed and many said the writing was weak and the story shallow. Naturally, I wanted to find out for myself so I sat down this week and read it.
Title: Go Set a Watchman
Author: Harper Lee
I believe this is the lowest rating I’ve ever given to a book. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of my favorite books in high school and I’m at least happy to say reading this didn’t ruin that book for me. But it was evident that this publication was not about creating more great literature. It was about the money.
Right from the get go, I was distracted by the clunky and sloppy writing. I’ve heard that Ms. Lee didn’t want the manuscript touched by an editor and honestly, that makes me sad. Not just as a writer myself but because it could have been so much better if she’d let someone else take a look before sending it out into the world. There’s likely a reason that the editor back in the day told Ms. Lee that what became To Kill a Mockingbird was the real story. There were many times during the story where Scout (narrating in 3rd person) would flip to 1st person for internal thoughts and dialogue. There was nothing to signal the change in narrative style was coming and it was often distracting and pulled me out of the story. There was an entire chapter mid-way through where it was impossible to figure who she was talking to.
Plot-wise, the story was shallow. The theme of growing up and realizing that the people you held on a pedestal aren’t who you thought they were and that everyone has flaws is a good theme. I wasn’t concerned that Atticus suddenly seemed to harbor such racial animosity. After all, Scout was six during To Kill a Mockingbird. She idolized her father and only saw the good in him. But the resolution to the story seemed not only rushed but clumsy. Maybe it was the writing that got in the way of what the characters were trying to say or maybe it’s just that the sentiments in the last ’40s and early ’50s aren’t something I fully grasp being a millennial. But the way the story ended just didn’t work for me. It could have been much more powerful.
Honestly, the entire novel read like a first draft and I think that’s my biggest criticism. But, I’ve read it and formed my own opinion (even if it does echo many other reviewers out there). As I said, my memory of To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t ruined or tarnished. I just wish some more effort had been put into this novel to make it really shine.