Friday, August 14, 2015

Go Set a Watchman - a Draft Not a Sequel

Go Set A Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel by Debra H. Goldstein

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.

10 comments:

  1. Carol,
    I appreciate your comment. Knowing were you live in Alabama, you are well aware of the controversies swirling about this book, Monroeville, and the players behind its publication --- and the fact that Mockingbird is a cherished masterpiece.

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  2. My family is from Alabama, too, Debra, and I hate to think that Harper Lee might be remembered as writing a terrible sequel. I'm glad I raff your blog on it and will share ir with my sister who probably doesn't know and ordered the books for us. I'll read the final book afterward and see what real editing is capable of! !

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    1. Reading the final book afterward definitely lets you know how the editing worked to make a good idea into a well-polished manuscript. Somone figured out how to throw away the words that were rants or poorly executed ideas in Watchman and create scenes that made the points far better in Mockingbird. Let me know what you think when you finish reading the two books next to each other.

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  3. My family is from Alabama, too, Debra, and I hate to think that Harper Lee might be remembered as writing a terrible sequel. I'm glad I raff your blog on it and will share ir with my sister who probably doesn't know and ordered the books for us. I'll read the final book afterward and see what real editing is capable of! !

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  4. Thanks for an interesting post. I have not read Watchman and have no intention of doing so. I do believe this is a case of a publisher looking to make money and taking advantage of an infirm Harper Lee. I could be wrong...

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  5. Judy and Judy in Boston -- totally agree. I wouldn't be as dismayed at the "profit" of someone if the draft wasn't being presented in such a misleading way (sequel) because people who don't know better will never have the opportunity to read only Mockingbird without the taint of Watchman (of course, when watchman goes out of print).

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  6. Excellent review, Debra! While reading Go Set a Watchman, I found myself skimming through sections and I had no difficulty putting it down. I agree...it's an excellent example of a first draft.

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    1. Sad that it was published ... sadder that it was marketed as a sequel rather than what it truly is. Perhaps the publisher should have put a mermaid on the cover???????

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