Once upon a time, a book by Harper Lee titled To Kill a Mockingbird was published. The book was tightly written, had beautiful descriptions of the people living in a small southern town, and provided a moral compass for generations of readers. Despite the awards the book won and the adoration of the public, Ms. Lee said she wouldn’t publish another book and she held true to her word until 2015 when, after the death of her sister, who also was her personal lawyer, a manuscript “discovered” in Harper Lee’s sister’s lockbox was published.
The found manuscript, Go Set A Watchman, was explained as being the original Harper Lee version that after a year of rewriting under the guidance of her editor became the To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960. Supposedly, her then editor felt the draft manuscript was flawed but believed the parts dealing with the main character as a child with the story told from the child’s perspective were strong enough to build a book around.
The editor was right.
My disclaimer at this point: since I began writing novels and short stories, I read differently. Rather than reading simply for enjoyment, I can’t help taking books apart structurally. Although Go Set A Watchman deals with events and characters after the time of To Kill a Mockingbird with flashbacks to the main character’s childhood, it is not a sequel. It is a draft.
Repetitive passages, instances of showing not telling, point of view shifts, and even a nickname reference without establishing a set-up for it are problematic – especially since readers are so familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird. The book isn’t bad, but it isn’t the story or even the characters associated with Mockingbird unless it is a passage dealing with the children. Those passages are engaging. A careful reader will find many full paragraphs and partial references made to events or actions that are fleshed out in the final To Kill a Mockingbird manuscript. Some characters are left out, others added and there are major differences between the arthritic Atticus of Watchman and his dignified characterization in Mockingbird. Most importantly, some of the points that Harper Lee subtlety made in lines readers recall after closing the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird can only be found in long speeches or between the lines in Go Set A Watchman.
If there had been no To Kill a Mockingbird, Watchman would have been read as a first novel with little to no lasting impact. Although Scout is a young woman in this book, to call it a sequel is a shame. It should be read and perhaps even taught in schools as what it is --- a draft that with revision eventually became a masterpiece.