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Dave's Review of Go Set A Watchman


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Dave's Review of Go Set A Watchman

David R. Smith

It's 1:30am on what is now, technically, Sunday the 8th of November. I have just finished reading Harper Lee's book Go Set A Watchman.

You know what? I still cried at the end.

This book has been laced with much controversy since it was announced earlier in the year that it was getting published.

Part of the controversy of this book was the timing.  Harper Lee wrote this manuscript decades ago. She decided for years that she didn't want it published. It was even believed that the manuscript was destroyed.

Fast forward to 2015 when, Hey look at that: we have a manuscript but Harper Lee is not as sound of mind as she used to be. Well, we'll just go ahead and get her to give us permission now. Clearly she'd change her mind after years of saying she didn't want it published.

I am fairly certain that there have been some shenanigans involved in the publishing of this book. It just seems too suspect. (Out of respect for her, the people involved in her estate - who I'm sure are making a fair mint off the continual reprintings of the best book of all time - could have at least waited for her to pass away.  She's getting on in years and is not well. Just give her that respect. But I digress)

I was hesitant to buy this book from the get-go, because of all that controversy. But I was in Hawaii, it was there and I was curious.

It's no secret that To Kill A Mockingbird is my favourite book of all time. My dog is named after the main female character (had there been any boys left, I would have had an Atticus. But that'll happen eventually.)

Scout "Jean Louise" Smith

Scout "Jean Louise" Smith

I have read To Kill A Mockingbird on many occasions. I'll re-read it every few years, just because I feel like I need to revisit it. I forget things about it (like how funny it actually is.) I also love the message.

Atticus Finch is my favourite all-time fictional character. I have reasons for this that are personal and I have reasons for this that just make sense - he's wise, he's a tremendous father, and he believes in what is right. He's a stand-up individual.

That's why I was worried going into this book. I had heard rumours that in this book, Atticus isn't painted in the same light as he is in the first one. He isn't on that pedestal and so I was scared that reading this book would make me like the Atticus I grew up reading about less.

It didn't.

I will say this: the book didn't make him out to be the hero he is in TKAM. But I was expecting much worse than what I ended up reading. I was building myself up for mass disapointment and instead I just got "Meh. That wasn't so bad."

I don't want to get into much plot-wise, in case people are planning on reading the book but haven't gotten to it yet. Instead I'll just stick to my thoughts on the novel as a whole.

Honestly? It wasn't as good as I was hoping. 

Don't get me wrong. I still enjoyed it. (As I said above, I still cried at the end, though that has less to do with the book and more to do with the fact that almost anything will make me cry now.) It just didn't hook me in as much as To Kill A Mockingbird did.

Here's the thing: I re-read Mockingbird this summer while on holidays. I read it in 3 days. I started this book 9 weeks ago and it took me until tonight to read it.  Granted, some of that had to do with me not being on vacation and having much work to do. But some of it was just because it didn't get its hooks into me like Mockingbird does.

A quick plot summary: It's roughly 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird takes place. Scout (now going by Jean Louise) comes back to Maycomb to see her family. She's been living in New York and has been experiencing a world beyond the small town in which she was accustomed to living back in the day. She discovers that while things haven't really changed, things have changed drastically. That's essentially it.

And I guess that's my problem with the book: despite the fact that many things happen, it feels like nothing really happens. To me this book felt like a lot of exposition with some key major events slotted in. I get the reasoning for the chapters of memories written in: we needed to get insight into a time when things hadn't completely derailed. But that was essentially what To Kill A Mockingbird WAS. If Mockingbird was the exposition, we don't need much more. We could have just focused on what was happening.

But that's not how it was written. So we endure with, what I would consider a lesser quality version of To Kill A Mockingbird with what I would consider less of an important message. 


It's getting late, so I'm going to close with these final thoughts:

There are some books that I will re-read on several occasions. I was worried that this book wouldn't be one of them. It probably isn't but not for the reason I thought it would be. I was worried that it would be because I didn't like the Atticus written herein and as a result, it would sully my favourite book.  That wasn't the case. I just feel like I won't re-read this book because it's not as good. I may get back to it at some point in my life because 10 years down the road, I might forget what happens in the book and want to re-read it for my own memory. But I won't be pulling it off the shelves every 2 years in conjunction with its older, better counterpart.

If you've read To Kill A Mockingbird, I suggest reading it. You likely won't enjoy it as much, but it's cool to revisit (some of) the characters. I don't think anybody will be walking away from this one saying it's as good as Harper Lee's first, which is probably the reason that she didn't want it published in the first place. But it's out now, so I would suggest having a go at it. Mostly because now I've finished it and there are things I couldn't bring up here that I want to talk about. So read it. And then get back to me so we can talk about it.

Happy Wednesday, friends!

D (@davidronn)