When I first heard that Harper Lee's second novel was going to be released, I was shocked and excited. Like most other English teachers, I love teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. As the anticipation built, there was a lot of controversy about the release of Go Set a Watchman. Regardless, I had to read it. I went to my local bookstore the day the novel was released, and had finished the book two days later. I found that I needed quite a few breaks from the book to digest what I was reading, and I had a hard time picking up a new book to read for several weeks- something that is very unusual for me. Let me try to explain my feelings on the experience of reading this novel.
I went into Go Set a Watchman with low expectations. I had accidentally read a few spoilers, and I didn't like what I had read. I was also leery of the intentions behind the book's release. Finally, I knew that it was very unlikely that anything could live up to To Kill a Mockingbird. I thought of this as an experience- reading a piece of history that wasn't necessarily meant to be seen. It felt like a special secret that I was being let in on.
While the logical part of my brain knew that I needed to keep my expectations low, the emotional part of me was so excited and was hoping to be surprised with a magical masterpiece. I think that this is why I felt... empty upon finishing the novel.
I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. I just felt unsettled. Empty. Unsure of what to think.
I won't write any spoilers. The only thing that I will say about the plot of the novel is that it follows 26 year old Scout, who now lives in New York, as she returns home to visit her aging father.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- It felt like some of the characters were just tacked on and didn't add to the story in any way ("The readers will want to know where Dill is." "Oh, just mention him in passing. That will keep them happy." "Got it."). Rather than giving me closure on these characters, it just opened the door to me wanting more. If they hadn't been mentioned, they simply wouldn't have been a part of this particular story. Boy, did this book make me want to know more about Jem.
- I forgot that Atticus was already an "old dad" in Mockingbird. It was uncomfortable to see him in a situation where he needed to be taken care of.
- Hank. Did Scout really need a man? Did it add anything to the story? I'm not sure that it did.
- Jem = his mother, Scout = her father
- The conflict with Atticus. It's difficult to say much without writing a spoiler, but I think that the point is to put the reader in Scout's shoes. Just as Scout idolized Atticus, so did we. We have put him on a pedestal as this ideal man, ideal lawyer, ideal father. I think that the point of the conflict was to make Scout, and the reader, learn how to "set her own watchman." You can't look to this ideal, infallible figure to act as your conscience because the reality is that this person doesn't exist.
I was mentally exhausted after finishing Watchman, so I haven't read any other reviews on the novel. I would love to hear what other people thought of the book.