I Liked Harper Lee’s “New” Novel

While watching an old episode of The Good Wife on Amazon Prime the other night, Alicia Florrick commented that To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) made many lawyers. It reminded me that I had recently read Go Set a Watchman (2015), the newly released “prequel” to that classic and monumental American novel by Harper Lee. I know there’s been a lot of controversy about the publication of Go Set a Watchman and much discussion about whether or not it is a “good” novel.

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I’m going to stand on my own and say that I sincerely enjoyed Go Set a Watchman, and I saw value in its message. Many have lamented the fact that Atticus is a racist in the novel, and that it isn’t as well written as To Kill a Mockingbird. However, it is extremely well written, even if somewhat like a draft, and Atticus’s faults make sense, especially when Jean Louise must fight against them in order to stand on her own two feet.

The novel is set from Jean Louise’s point of view as an adult, and she comes home to Maycomb from New York City to visit. She has a romance with Henry, and Jem is dead. Jean Louise, still called Scout by some, must navigate her relationship with this man who wants to marry her and the needs of her ailing and older father, her annoying but good-hearted Aunt Alexandra, and her uncle Dr. Finch. He ultimately acts as Jean Louise’s mentor into adulthood, and he helps her to understand the complexity of social problems, like good ’ol boys networks, white supremacy, poverty, and inefficiency among other things.

What Jean Louise learns in the denouement of this book is that her idealism is not possible. In many ways, her journey and self discovery and her shattering of Atticus as a “perfect” role model reflect the same journey Jack takes in All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Jack, too, is an idealist, who believes that the only things that are real are in the life of the mind. Similarly, Jean Louise holds to a form of idealism, thinking that her ideals of human behavior are right and must somehow play out in real life. She discovers that this cannot be, although she may be right about how we ought to behave, and while it is shattering to her and to us as readers, it is true. We may hold to sentiments and equality and ideals that are good and true and needed, but they may not always play out the way we wish them to. Our visions of the mind aren’t all that’s to be considered.

Atticus teaches her this, with his imperfections, and she gives in to the realization that he is not her strength or her rock, but that she is her own person with her own convictions. In many ways, the narrative is empowering in terms of forming one’s own identity and in terms of learning to stand up for what one believes, no matter what kind of resistance one may face, especially from beloved family members.

I enjoyed the read. The writing was gorgeous. I learned more about Scout and Jem and Dill and their childhood (and high school!) adventures. Go Set a Watchman is a decent and interesting companion to the quintessential American novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It does not reach it, but it compliments it in a way that I appreciated.

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25 thoughts on “I Liked Harper Lee’s “New” Novel

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  1. I didn’t read this novel because I had read Mockingbird, the biography of Harper Lee and learned how much editing went into To Kill a Mockingbird, editing that isn’t available now. The biography also made clear how didactic were Lee’s tendencies, and I figured this novel wouldn’t have anyone to cut that back. I dislike didactic writing, and I was afraid that ready Watchman would make me disappointed.

    1. Yeah, I think you’d hate Watchman. It is very didactic, which is why I was able to say, “Hey, there’s something here.” It isn’t a perfect book, but I enjoyed seeing what else Lee could do!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been wanting to read it but was a little afraid I wouldn’t like it due to the many reactions others had to it. I think I will pick it up now with an open mind now and see what I think for myself. Thanks!

  3. I appreciated reading your view on this book. Most of what I have read about it talk mostly about the controversy surrounding it, and the literary and historical value of it, rather than just whether or not it was a good read. Glad you liked it!

  4. There’s been a long list of people who hated the book. I am only included in that list because Atticus is racist. However, it’s refreshing to read a review of someone who thoroughly enjoyed the book.

  5. I’m glad you read and enjoyed this book. I’ve been nervous about it myself but as it’s still in hardback, I’ve got time to let the idea sit a bit and let all the hullabaloo settle before it comes out in paperback and I have to decide to read it or not. I appreciate your review as most I’ve read are repeats of the disappointment that it’s not the same as Mockingbird. I think I will read it eventually, though. It’ll be interesting to see what I think for myself, as thewritertracy said above in the comments.

    1. I think that’s exactly why everybody should read it! They should find out for themselves, instead of jumping on the “I’m disappointed” bandwagon. Of course it isn’t the same! 🙂

  6. I agree with you; while the book clearly was a draft of TKAM, it was suitable for those times, and accurately depicts the turmoil our country was going through, and Lee’s own evolution as an individual and writer. While I don’t think it’s the masterpiece that TKAM was, I’m certainly not surprised to see Atticus’ flawed side making an appearance — it’s realistic, then and now.

    1. I’m glad you’ve said this! This is the discussion I want to have about this book, not the same old discussion that is making the rounds. I think there’s something to this book. It means something. It represents something. It was worth reading. 🙂

      1. I felt the book was very realistic, mostly when Jean Louise confronted Atticus and had to realise that he was human and not a god. I think that’s an important stepping stone for everyone, but not everyone has experienced it, which is why, I feel, not everyone can love and appreciate this book the way TKAM is. I really loved your take on it though, I’m glad you enjoyed it 😊 Also I reviewed the book on my blog (shameless, shameless plug)

  7. And here I thought I was the only one who liked it! I read it and said, “Oh, wow, look at this dramatic coming-to-adulthood narrative.” Everyone else I’ve talked to said, in same cases literally, “Ugh, I just can’t read it. It’s horrible.” So it’s nice to see someone evaluating it dispassionately.

  8. Emily,
    Your book reviews are one thing I look forward to all day. I love reading, I have also read, Go Set a Watchman, and I didn’t think it as good as I thought it would. Check out my blog if you have time! wordsofliterature.wordpress.com

  9. Emily,
    I read Go Set a Watchman, and didn’t think it as good as I thought it would. I love To Kill a Mockingbird, but this book didn’t convey the message to me. I enjoy reading your book reviews! Check out my blog when you have time! wordsofliterature.wordpress.com

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