My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

Jan 19

Go Set A Watchm… no, don’t!

Category: Life,Opinions

First, a confession. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time a few days ago. From almost the first page you can tell it’s special, Harper Lee is special. If Ms. Lee were a super hero, Go Set a Watchman could be considered her Origin Story, but it’s one nobody need or ought know.

This isn’t really a book review, because Go Set a Watchman isn’t really a book, let alone some sort of sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s brilliant first and ONLY novel. The publisher ought to be really ashamed for even ASKING Ms. Lee for permission to publish, then for actually going through with it, and billing it as “Harper Lee’s new novel.” The “official” story behind its release goes, when Ms. Lee was asked for permission to publish this “newly found novel,” she supposedly said, “…if you think people will enjoy it, go ahead and publish it.” I don’t think the real circumstances were so tidy, but we’ll never know what was truly said, or the tone used to say it. My head and my heart tell me old-age and apathy are why Ms. Lee put pen to paper, allowing Watchman into the world. That it never should have happened becomes obvious all too quickly.

Go Set a Watchman is nothing more than either a first draft of Mockingbird, or more likely (since it IS titled), a failed manuscript of a book that evolved into Mockingbird. You see her spark in Watchman, you see that EVENTUALLY she was going to write something that’s publishable at least, but probably something ultimately beautiful. You see a writer trying to find her voice, testing parts of her craft, attempting techniques and devices, and in that sense Watchman is fascinating. Still, it’s astonishingly flawed, as anything one writes in their early attempts at a novel. It was rejected with cause, and never should have seen the light of day.

1 comment

1 Comment so far

  1. Ed Pohl January 19th, 2016 11:56 am

    Michael, decades after Ernest Hemingway died, his son authorized the (extensive) editing and release of a sub-par novel his father had written but never tried to have published. In terms of tarnishing an esteemed author’s legacy, “Go Set a Watchman” is far more insidious because, as you noted, part of the allure of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was that it was the author’s first and only novel; Hemingway left behind a much larger body of work. Even worse, the “Watchman” story is intertwined with that of Harper Lee’s masterpiece and shares characters with it.

    Ethically speaking, it would have been much better to secure publication rights posthumously than to convince a woman in her dotage to sign the contract. At least it’s known with certainty Hemingway had nothing to do with the publication of a bad novel bearing his name.

    I’ve read “To Kill a Mockingbird” a few times but, knowing Watchman’s back-story, decided to stay away from it. After reading your post I’m very glad I did.