Plot summary (from the publisher): Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.
Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.
Warning: Spoilers below!
Go Set a Watchman is easily the most-hyped book of the past few years, so it was impossible to avoid all mention of it before the release. As a result, I knew the reception was mostly lukewarm at best, and didn’t have unrealistic expectations going in. Moreover, although I liked To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it in high school, I am not a rabid fan with multiple readings under my belt.
So…my feelings towards Go Set a Watchman turned out to be rather positive. Sure, I have the same problem with Atticus Finch’s characterization that everyone else does, but what can I do? He’s not my creation.
Besides Atticus, I really liked everything else about the book. Scout was recognizable despite being all grown up and dating. I was sad to learn that Jem died, but enjoyed Scout’s reminiscences about playing with him and Dill(!) as children. I also liked the scene with Calpurnia, even though it saddened me to see her treating Scout with such distance and coldness.
There wasn’t much “plot” to speak of, certainly no edge-of-your-seat courtroom scenes like in TKAM, so I chose to look at this simply as a character study. Scout’s childhood idol falls and she has to process this shocking information and decide how to reshape her own values. Would it have been as compelling if I’d never heard of TKAM? Of course not. But this work, despite being neither prequel nor sequel, is not a standalone either.
While I can understand the low ratings and poor reviews Go Set a Watchman has received, I am opting not to judge it so harshly. I just felt lucky to have been given a glimpse of Harper Lee’s early vision of Scout’s story and to compare it to the more familiar–and more beloved–end result. Call me easy to please, but I enjoyed this one and give it 4 stars out of 5.