Book Talk: Go Set a Watchman

7:00:00 PM

When I first heard that Harper Lee was publishing the manuscript that (after much editing) had become To Kill a Mockingbird, I was intrigued and excited. I wrote a #FirstImpressionFriday post about the first chapter upon its release, and immediately added the book to my wish list.

The book was released, and with it, a deluge of opinions and controversy. I still wanted to read the book, but I was more anxious about it - worried that somehow reading this book would tarnish my feelings about her first. Then, months later, I received an email from my library telling me that the audiobook of Go Set a Watchman that I had placed on hold was finally available. After a few deep breaths, I hit play. And I'm not sorry I did.

One of the first things that endeared me to this novel was the narrator. Reese Witherspoon did a phenomenal job bringing this world and it's characters to life without distracting from or diminishing the story. Her voice was perfect for the role, and her delivery of Harper Lee's trademark humor was spot-on. There was no slow-start, no question of whether I was interested. I was in. Which is good, because I needed those first few playful and lighthearted chapters before, for lack of a better phrase, the shit hit the fan.

I wasn't really surprised when the other shoe dropped - after all, I'd heard enough rumblings in the literary world to lead me to believe that it would - but it didn't seem out of the blue, for someone who knew the story. It seemed inevitable, the moment when the prodigal daughter returns to her hometown, only to discover that things are not quite as she believed them to be. Jean Louise's disillusionment with her father's actions felt relatable and relevant as a woman who has experienced something similar, and while I, too, was disappointed to discover that a beloved literary character was not what I once believed him to be, it seemed like a natural progression of events and a series of conversations that remained true to Lee's characters.

It was fascinating to see Lee's original vision for the story and characters play out, and to notice the storylines that changed or remained the same as she edited or recreated events for her first published novel. I respect the opinions of those who were surprised, frustrated, and even angry with Harper Lee and those involved in the writing and publication of this novel. I certainly felt very mixed emotions while I was reading it. But I also felt as though I had to take my reading of Go Set a Watchman with a grain of salt. It's a piece of writing that, under different circumstances, would never have been published.

When I looked at it as an adaptation of an existing work rather than a continuation of one, the lack of continuity in plot and characters bothered me less. I realized that being able to read this novel was akin to an illicit glimpse into the mind of an author - it was a reminder that the novel we read in high school, the one that has earned love, awards, and a place in the canon is one of many versions of this novel that existed inside and outside of Lee's head (as well as on and off of the page). And when I think about it that way, it seems pretty darn cool that I got to read it at all.

Will you be reading Harper Lee's old/new novel? Have you read it already? What did YOU think about this story and all of it's controversy? Let me know in the comments below!

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