It’s impossible to write a review of Harper Lee’s ”Go set a watchman” without comparing it to her masterpiece ”To kill a mockingbird”. My comparison is short: The former not even close to the latter. ”To kill a mockingbird” is a classic for a reason. That’s not to say that ”Go set a watchman” is a bad book; it has many redeeming features. But more on that later.
Jean Louise (aka Scout) Finch, one of the central characters of TKAM, is now an adult. She lives in New York. She returns to Maycombe, Alabama, to visit her aging father Atticus and her boyfriend Hank. But she is in for a big shock. The people she thought she knew turn out to be very different, which causes her to reconsider everything about her past and her relationships to some of the most important people in her life.
The central idea of the book, the idea that everyone should have equal rights no matter what colour their skin is, is introduced late in the book. The first half has more to do with Scout’s memories from her childhood, pleasant little recollections that Harper Lee tells with warmth and humour. It also has to do with Scout’s growing realisation that she’s not meant to live in Maycombe. This isn’t home anymore, and maybe it never was for someone so different than everyone else. Someone who was raised in a certain way, someone rebellious and tomboy-ish, someone who, as her uncle describes her, is colourblind.
Because of this structural imbalance, it’s hard to put a finger on what we’re meant to take away from the book. The first half could be a collection of short stories, and then suddenly there is a shift and it’s about something else. That made GSAW feel unpolished, unfinished somehow. Some of the characters in the book went on long tirades that I found incomprehensible. Was it me and my lack of knowledge of American history that caused this incomprehension? Or did the book need a heavier editing hand?
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed the ”short stories” part of the book and its humour. But it’s neither a book I would read again or one I would recommend.