My Spoiler-Free Thoughts on Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set A Watchman, Harper LeeFiction
Released July 14, 2015
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Source: Purchased

Go Set A Watchman is an extremely unconventional book, so I didn’t write a conventional review. Rather, I’m just going to share my thoughts and questions.

Why I Read It

If you’ve paid attention to the book media lately, you probably know there are a lot of people choosing not to read Go Set A Watchman for various reasons: the controversy surrounding Harper Lee’s approval of its publication, fears that it wouldn’t be any good, too much hype, etc. While I acknowledge all these concerns, the bottom line is that I was curious.

Do I Regret It?

No. While I won’t go so far as to say I liked Go Set A Watchman (I didn’t), it was an entirely unique reading experience. The opportunity to read a “sequel” (I realize that’s not what Go Set A Watchman is, but it did have that feel) that was actually written before the original and then put aside from such an iconic author will probably never happen again. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The book left me with a lot to chew on and I certainly don’t regret that.

Overall Observations

  • Had Go Set A Watchman been a regular old book, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. It just dragged for quite awhile. But, I’m glad I hung in there because I got much more invested towards the end and…well, how can you not finish this book?!
  • Lee’s writing was rambling and incoherent at times and downright on fire at others. Things didn’t quite hang together, but I saw flashes of the brilliance that made To Kill A Mockingbird so iconic. Just like with To Kill A Mockingbird, I found myself highlighting a lot.
  • I was missing a story here. This work seemed like more of a character study (and maybe a setting study if there is such a thing) than an actual novel with a real plot. The ending helped out with this a bit, but it was very late in coming.
  • Despite having trouble getting into things for most of the book (I admittedly skimmed some parts), I found myself fully invested by the end! Things really turned around from a plot perspective and I started to see a point to it all.
  • The book deals with the same issues as To Kill A Mockingbird (race, women’s roles, etc), but throws in some new ones (big vs. small government) and takes the issues farther than Mockingbird did.
  • I have no idea how Go Set A Watchman would ever have worked as a stand alone book (as originally intended). The entire crux of the story loses meaning without an appreciation for the strong character portrayals from To Kill A Mockingbird. I’m actually kind of amazed she wrote this one first.

Some Favorite Quotes

Hell was and would always be as far as she was concerned, a lake of fire exactly the size of Macomb, Alabama, surrounded by a brick wall two hundred feet high.

Coffees were peculiarly Maycombian in nature. They were given for girls who came home. Such girls were placed on view at [10:30] A.M. for the express purpose of allowing the women of their age who had remained enlisted in Maycomb to examine them. Childhood friendships were rarely renewed under such conditions.

The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in. The only thing in America that is still unique in this tired world is that a man can go as far as his brains will take him or he can go to hell if he wants to […].

Questions I’m Pondering

Am I glad Go Set A Watchman was published?
Putting the issue of Harper Lee’s state of mind aside (because we’ll likely never know the truth), I am glad this work was made available to read. However, I’m not sure it should have been published as a finished novel as it felt far more like a “historical artifact” (thank you, Jessica Tripler at Book Riot, for eloquently summarizing what this work felt like to me). I have no idea if you can put something like this out there as a “historical artifact” or how that would even happen, but that presentation would have felt more right.

How did Lee get her characters from how they are in Go Set A Watchman to how they are in To Kill A Mockingbird?
This was the aspect of the book that most fascinated me. I’m going to share how my thoughts went as I read. Hang with me here, because this is going to get confusing:

1) How did the characters go from A (in TKAM) to Z (in GSAW)?
2) Wait, Z (GSAW) actually came before A (TKAM). It sure doesn’t feel this way while you’re reading!
3) So, why did Lee decide to make them like A in TKAM if they were like Z in GSAW?
4) WAIT, she probably never intended for GSAW to see the light of day, so there could be no reason whatsoever that her characters “evolved” (more like evolved in reverse!) from Z to A…she could have simply changed her mind…there didn’t have to be any character evolution! But, there very well might have been…
5) We’ll never knew if any of this was intentional at all. That’s beyond frustrating…I want to know what she was thinking!!

*I listened to the Book Riot podcast on Go Set A Watchman after writing the first draft of this post and they shared a second hand report that, if it’s to be believed, answered these questions for me. It’s kind of a spoiler to elaborate on how, but check out the podcast if you’re interested (or email me and I’ll tell you!). Note: the entire podcast is an excellent discussion, but is pretty spoiler-y.

Should You Read It?

If you’re simply looking for a good book, then probably not. But, if you’re interested in literary history or in thinking beyond what’s actually on the page, then yes! However, I would recommend reading To Kill A Mockingbird first or re-reading it if it’s been awhile (like me). The most interesting aspects of Go Set A Watchman for me all revolved around how it relates to and what it says about To Kill A Mockingbird. That being said, there is lots to discuss, so Go Set A Watchman could make for a lively book club discussion.

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  1. I’ve been on the fence about reading GSAW, but I think I’ve finally decided to read it once the hype dies down. I think, to me, one of the most interesting things about this book is how it illustrates the importance of a good editor! It makes me wonder how many other classics were a mess in manuscript form, only to be transformed with and editor’s guidance.

    Posted 7.23.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yep – definitely! That original editor was kind of a genius. And – your line of thinking is sort of along the lines of the only interesting aspects of the book for me 🙂

      Posted 7.23.15 Reply
  2. Carmen wrote:

    I had a feeling that would be the case. Lightning usually doesn’t strike twice in a lifetime.

    Posted 7.23.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      This is definitely not a second bolt of lightening 🙂 But, it did get us to TKAM!

      Posted 7.23.15 Reply
  3. Naomi wrote:

    I liked reading your thoughts on this book. I think I would feel the same frustration as you about not knowing what Harper Lee’s intentions were.
    I just might read this some time… but not quite yet.

    Posted 7.23.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Thank you! I know a lot of people who are holding off for awhile…

      Posted 7.23.15 Reply
  4. I swore off reading any reviews (after reading the NYT that spoilers) until I finished the book, but since you said spoiler-free, I took a chance. Thank you for keeping it spoiler free!! I’ll be reading GSaW this coming weekend.

    Posted 7.23.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Ha – I didn’t read any reviews either…but still managed to have it spoiled! I was so annoyed! I hope my thoughts were adequately spoiler free and will be interested to hear your thoughts on it 🙂

      Posted 7.23.15 Reply
      • Oh gosh, your review was perfect! I’ll probably start it tomorrow and had already decided before buying it that I wasn’t sure I will be able to rate it because it is her unedited manuscript (I think?). I’m not expecting perfection by any means and will be reading more because of my love TKaM and the historical significance of it being Harper Lee. And now, there might be a third? Hmmm, I’m not sure how I feel about that. Now, are we milking the pot a little? Or, is Harper really okay with a third? Hmmm…lots to think about if a third book comes into play.

        Posted 7.24.15 Reply
        • admin wrote:

          Well, thank you! Good mentality going in…you will definitely appreciate it more that way! And – I heard something about that on a podcast recently…but sort of dismissed it as preposterous (I guess I’m hoping that’s what the powers that be decide?)! I wonder how the reviews of this one will impact that decision? This should be interesting…

          Posted 7.24.15 Reply
  5. Diane wrote:

    I decided to place a hold for the library download, but won’t be buying a copy, as honestly, I;m not sure I have the patience — I liked the format you used to share your thoughts.

    Posted 7.24.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I understand…the first part definitely took some patience 🙂 And, thank you!

      Posted 7.24.15 Reply
  6. Your review pretty much sums up what I’ve read from others. I really don’t have an interest in reading it but then I’ve always kind of rebelled against the hyped-up books. Besides, I’ve got great blogging friends who will read it and tell me if its worth the time spent or not 😉

    Posted 7.25.15 Reply
  7. susan wrote:

    These are all excellent points Sarah. Thx for the summary on whether to read GSAW. I do plan to sometime perhaps later this year. I just did a reread of TKAM and talked about both books over at I also find the evolution of the characters from one book to the next perhaps the most thought-provoking. Perhaps her editor shaped its direction quite a bit. But I should listen to the podcast you speak of. thanks

    Posted 7.26.15 Reply
  8. Diane wrote:

    I couldn’t have been more disappointed in this book. I kept looking for some justification for this book when it was so destructive of the previous wonderful novel. I kept thinking with all this rambling there must be some important message(s) here.

    Having just finished reading it, this is what I can pull from it: the main object of the book, I think, is to explore the manner that one develops their conscience. Scout’s task was to explore what she really believed in whether it coincided with her family’s beliefs, or those of the whole town, or not. And, the personal cost of being out of step with those around you.

    Secondly: the battle between states rights and a large imposing central government.

    Thirdly: and probably most important was the way people can rationalize and justify why they deserve to be treated better than others. On page 252, Jean Louise tells her father he and the town are like Hitler. They may not be killing negroes’ bodies but they are killing their souls. And, her father rationalizes with all the propaganda of the time about why they are children unprepared for equality, etc. etc. That reference to Hitler, I think is very appropriate. Because the process of telling terrible lies about people (as was done to Jews in Germany ) is seen here against blacks. And a lie told often enough is seen as the truth. And, why are these told, so people can feel superior to some others. So people can have an economic advantage. So people can vent their anger and frustrations on another group. It happens all the time, and is happening still in our country to one group or another.

    Could these issues been dealt with better than they were, I truly think so. However, it still leaves this book as having some social importance beyond its many failings.

    Posted 9.7.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I agree this book does have social importance, despite it not being a great book (in my view at least). I just wish it had been presented as more of a historical artifact rather than a finished novel.

      I agree with your point about the personal cost of being out of step with those around you. I think this is an interesting theme and almost wasn’t explored deeply enough. The folks on the Book Riot podcast had a great discussion about this topic after the book came out…kind of like having the grandmother that makes ridiculous comments all the time, but you give her a pass because she’s family.

      And, I absolutely wish the states rights vs. big government theme was fleshed out a little more.

      But, overall, what a blah book!! The first 1/2 to 3/4 was downright boring! Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted 9.18.15 Reply
  9. Many issues raised but few discussed and portrayed adequately.

    Posted 12.3.15 Reply

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