Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

August 6th, 2015 Kimberly Review 83 Comments

6th Aug
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Series: To Kill a Mockingbird #2
Narrator: Reese Witherspoon
Length: 6 hrs and 57 mins
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Purchase
Purchase*: Amazon | Audible *affiliate
Narration: 4.5 cups

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014. Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her. Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.

One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird from the characters to the writing. I have re-read it many times and I have always mourned that I could not read more works by Harper Lee. Therefore, when news of Go Set a Watchman spread I knew that I would have to read it. I noticed Reese Witherspoon was narrating the audio edition and decided to listen instead.

Whether you chose to listen or read Go Set a Watchman, I think it is very important to understand this is not a sequel to Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, it is the story that gave birth to it. It was original written in the mid-nineteen fifties and submitted to Lee’s publisher before TKAMB. Her publishers loved the flashbacks of Scout’s childhood and encouraged Lee to write about those events. It is important to remember that although they resemble our Atticus, Scout and Jim that these characters are in fact not them. The book was not edited, and there are a few run on sentences and conversations that would have benefited, but Lee’s voice and style still delighted me.

The story takes place when Jean Louis Finch (Scout) is an adult whose returned home to Maycomb after living in New York. It is an awakening and her struggle with the political and prejudices of this small southern Alabama town. Harper Lee captures that moment when a child sees the flaws in her hero, the man she has set on a pedestal and whose teachings have shaped her whole being.

In Go Set a Watchman Lee highlights the fears and prejudices of this small-town and those of others across the nation through the eyes of Jean Louise, an educated young modern young woman who has seen beyond the town. When Jean returns she sees Maycomb in a new light. While there are aspects she adores but she finds her values and opinions conflicting with those who remained behind.

The flashbacks most resemble TKAMB, and in fact, some scenes made it directly into the book. There are differences in those memories and Go Set a Watchman is certainly a story all of its own. Atticus is portrayed in his seventies and is still practicing law.  He is still a respected pillar of the community and in many ways resembles the man I came to love and respect in TKAMB. However, the social and political climate has changed. The tale takes place after the landmark decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education and poor Jean Louise witnesses her father in an act that tarnishes her perception of him and other men whom she held in high esteem.

Harper Lee through Jean Louise voice shares the injustices and temperament of those on the cusps of great change in our nation. She shows us the struggles of accepting change and that even the most progressive, forward thinking, respectable members of society can fall victim to racism and fear. She brilliantly shares Jean’s feelings as her hero(es) fall from the pedestals on which she placed them. I think many of us can relate particularly those in my generations. The way in which I view the world is different from those of my parents and their parent’s particularly on today’s issues of acceptance. While, Go Set a Watchman deals with racism and was written in the fifties, its message is still relevant today as we witness landmark decisions and change.

I am pleased that I was able to read Go Set a Watchman the manuscript that eventually gave birth to my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. I would not classify this as a novel but its beautifully written and a wonderful peek into the making of To Kill A Mockingbird. I am still left mourning that we are no longer able to read more from this brilliant, insightful author whose characters will forever hold a place in my heart.

Reese Witherspoon is a favorite and she delivered as a narrator. Her abilities to express Jean Louise’s anger, frustrations and tone only enhanced my experience and I would listen to her again.

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About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw, Howler and proud Nonna. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

83 Responses to “Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee”

  1. Olivia

    If I am honest I wasn’t the biggest fan of TKAMB. I did like it, but I didn’t love it like a lot of people did. And yet, I do want to read this one because it is sparking my curiosity. A lot of people have been seeing it as a sequel and been so shocked to find out that Atticus Finch is completely different to how he is portrayed in TKAMB. I think it is good that you set it in it’s place.

  2. Kay

    I just finished Go Set a Watchman and I have such mixed feelings. I just don’t know. I don’t think I regret reading it, but there should be a warning on the book telling people that it was not meant as a sequel and such. I knew going it but I feel like not everyone well. Some bookstores are even offering refunds for the book, now that I think is crazy.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      The marketing for it was horrible and sadly many believe this to be a sequel. I enjoyed this for what it was a historical manuscript.

  3. Nicole

    I think you read this (or listened to it) with the right spirit – remembering what it truly is. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

  4. Teddyree

    I love TKAM, reread it when eldest had to read it in high school. I decided to go with the audio too and I’m looking forward to Reece Witherspoon’s narration.

  5. Trish

    I’m still on the fence about reading this as it sounds just a bit too raw and unfinished. Instead I think I’ll reread TKAMB and then consider it again. The audio sounds great and I see also that it’s very short for an audio.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Honestly, it wasn’t bad..a few run on sentences, maybe some tweaking of conversations etc, but I have seen them make into books etc. If you think of this as a historical manuscript I think its worth listening too

  6. Blessie (Mischievous Reads)

    I read To Kill a Mockingbird ages ago and the only thing I can even remember is the movie. I’m having second thoughts on whether I should reread it before I pick this up. Wonderful review, Kimba!

  7. Red Iza

    I’ve never read the original book and it’s a shame, I should remedy that very soon. Great review, Kim, I can feel the love 🙂

  8. Katie Cross

    Reese Witherspoon narrates it? *lifts eyebrow*

    Actually, no, yeah, she’d be great.

    I want to read this so bad, but I won’t even try until I’ve re-read TKAMB again. This book has stirred up so much controversy that I’ve been following it for awhile, so I was excited to get your thoughts on it and clicked right away!

  9. Aubrey Wynne

    Thank you so much for this review. I had considered not reading it because I thought it was based on the actual characters. I, too, love her style. Looking at it as its own plot without relation to TKAMB will let me enjoy it. I might do the audio since Reese is narrating.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I am glad I could sway you. I blame marketing since so many folks seem to think this is a sequel. I am very happy I listened.

  10. Lorna

    I hadn’t read anything about this so had no idea it was the same characters from TKAMB. I did read TKAMB a very long time ago, saw the movie, and have seen it performed as a play about 15 years ago. Of course I loved it. For some reason, I don’t think I will want to read this. Not sure why. I do love Reese Witherspoon. Did I miss something? What did you rate it?

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I did not rate this because it is an unedited manuscript, and more of a historical piece than a novel. From this manuscript the novel TKAMB was developed..the characters names are the same, but they are different. From the childhood scenes we can see how TKAMB developed. However, I am delighted that I listened, love that it was released to the world, but feel it was marketing incorrectly as a lot of folks think this is a sequel.

  11. Paula M

    I loved To Kill A Mockingbird and thought that it was the perfect classic! That’s why I was so excited when I heard of the sequel coming out. But there’s a lot of controversy coming out that I’m not sure I wanna give this a try. But thank you for this review because I love your perspective. Also, you gave a me a heads up!

  12. Bookworm Brandee

    I’m so glad you reviewed this, Kim. I purchased it but haven’t read it yet. My MIL was telling me all about the hubbub over it while we were in Dallas. She said she was unsure if she wanted to read it since it might tarnish her image of Atticus. I hadn’t heard any of the hubbub but I read some articles while there and I told her I felt that it seemed very realistic. So I liked your comment on Scout seeing her hero’s flaws. Every generation sees things differently than the previous one. I also like how relevant this still is today. Obviously, TKaM is a favorite of mine as well. I even wanted to name my daughter Scout. (my hubs vetoed) Anyway, fabulous review!!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      A lot of folks wrongly assumed this was a sequel and while aspects reminded me of TKAMB it is its own story. I hope you read it. It didn’t alter my perception or memories of the characters in TKAMB

  13. Deborah

    Great review Kimberley… I certainly found it more ideologically complex than TKAM. Though… it’s really hard to place myself back in the 1950s and imagine what the world and perceptions were like as she was writing both!

  14. La La in the Library

    Thank you so much for this informative review. I am one of those people who will not be reading this because I get things in my head and cannot set them aside when reading, and I am sure to be reading To Kill a Mockingbird several times more. I am not sure that the alternate images of Atticus wouldn’t ruin watching the movie for me, also. I am glad you took the time to thoughtfully review this book. 🙂

  15. Lindy

    I loved TKaM. I read it when I was 15 years old, and the story has stayed with me. I thought this story was a sequel. Thanks for the clarification. Reese makes an awesome narrator! Thanks for sharing the audio clip. Wonderful Review 🙂

  16. Sakki Selznick

    After years of grieving the fact that Harper Lee never wrote anything besides To Kill A Mockingbird, the publication of Go Set a Watchman, led me to become fascinated by the reasons why. (I’ve blogged about a few of them at http://Sakkiselznick123.blogger.com, and Ursula LeGuin has a very person post about it, at http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2015/08/03/a-personal-take-on-go-set-a-watchman/.) The thing is, Go Set A Watchman, though clearly a first draft, is a brave, young novel, while To Kill A Mockingbird, though far more polished and charming, does provide a tamer, more accepting view of a turbulent time. Don’t get me wrong, I love TKAM. I’m rereading it now, and it washes over me anew, but I’m glad you’re focusing on the whole story of Harper Lee’s vision in this novel and the novel it became. Looking forward to more.

  17. Ro

    I remember reading Mockingbird as a kid and was looking forward to this one when I heard about it as well. I’ve seen diverse reviews, so despite not listening to audiobooks as I should, I really enjoy Witherspoon, so the fact that she is narrating this is a plus. I’m on the fence with reading this one, though. Stay tuned…

  18. The Bibliophile Babe

    I had no idea she narrated! I’ve yet to read To Kill a Mocking Bird. It wasn’t required reading, and I never got around to picking it up. I found a copy at a yardsale the other day, so hopefully I can start on that soon! Glad you enjoyed this.

  19. Sophia

    Reese Witherspoon is a narrator? That sounds like fun. I’ve actually heard mixed reviews to the sequel, but I LOVED To Kill a Mockingbird.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It is not a sequel, it was written before and rejected..it is interesting and relevant with today’s issues. I hope you try it

  20. Sophia Rose

    I didn’t realize how this one tied to TKAMB. I thought it was a sequel so I’m glad you set me straight or I’d have been confused when I read it. 🙂

  21. Mary Kirkland

    It’s been years since I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird so I’d probably re-read that before giving this one a read.

  22. Megan Alice

    I absolutely loved TKAM, having studied it for GCSE 2 years ago I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I am yet to read Go Set a Watchman, I shall probably wait for it to come out in paper back though! Really great review

  23. Katherine

    I had no idea Reese Witherspoon was the narrator! I really didn’t have much interest in reading this one (then there’s the whole hinky – to me – feel of the publication itself) and despite living in Alabama where Harper Lee is basically worshiped I didn’t love To Kill a Mockingbird. With Reese Witherspoon narrating this one I might just have to change my mind and give a try!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I think this is a historic manuscript and I enjoyed it, but totally understand. Reese did a wonderful job narrating Katherine.

  24. Michelle

    The sweet mother of the guy I rent my bookstore building from is letting me borrow Mockingbird, so I’ll finally get around to reading it soon. And then maybe try this one out too. I’m glad you enjoyed it Kimba. I know a lot of people are not happy with it.

  25. Ethan

    I was very impressed with the ways that this novel is socially relevant to today. It is crazy to think that the issues that were debated 50 years ago are some of the same things we still debate about today.

  26. Laurel-Rain Snow

    I bought this book as soon as it came out, and hope to read it soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as they will help me see the “manuscript” as it is. I first read TKAMB when the 50th anniversary edition came out. It maintains a special place on my shelves.

  27. Jennifer

    I read To Kill a Mockingbird back in 2000 for an English Lit course in college. I don’t remember much (if anything) about the book. LOL So I don’t see myself picking this one up unless I’m forced by another college course.

  28. Debbie Haupt

    Thanks Kim, you’ve answered a few questions and put in place a few puzzle pieces for me about this non-novel. I still want to read it. Great post!

  29. Ramona

    Beautiful review, Kimba. As you know, I’m still on the fence about reading it, but I’m glad that you had such a great experience with it. I didn’t know that the narration was by Reese Witherspoon! I imagine she was a delight 🙂

  30. Jenny

    Okay, my understanding of this one was way off Kim! I knew this was written before TKAM, but I thought it was a prequel time-wise and that TKAM was sort of a redemption of Atticus’s character from this book. I didn’t realize this was set so much later and that he does something to tarnish Scout’s view of him. Boo. Not sure how I feel about that!

  31. wall-to-wall books-wendy

    Hey Kimberly – I am confused! LOL which happens a lot actually.
    I am pretty sure you were the one who commented on my review of Her sister’s Shoes – correct?
    But when I clicked on your name, under “my blogs” it came up with a different blog – Black Cat blog/How to Date Dead Guys??? Do you have something to do with this also or is this a mistake?

  32. Nick

    I’m still not sure if I want to read this one, Kim! I’ve been very conflicted. I didn’t know Reese Witherspoon was the narrator. I’m glad that this was overall a good read for you despite the book needing some editing.
    Wonderful review, Kim!

  33. Kristin

    I am so glad I read your review before anyone else’s. It’s kind of cool that they left this un-edited and “pure”, considering Harper Lee’s stance on writing. I hope it’s understood and appreciated for what it truly was as well as you did (make sense?). Awesome review, Kimba!!!!! ❤️ (lookout, she’s commenting from the iPad today – emoticons be fly in’)

  34. Cynthia

    I thought this was a very beautiful novel from a very beautiful writer. I did think that some parts dragged a little and maybe there were a few too many flashbacks. But I still loved the overall message that even heroes aren’t perfect.

  35. Sarah's Book Shelves

    I read this one (didn’t listen to audio) and, while I could see some flashes of the brilliance that would eventually shine through in TKAM, I really thought a lot of the book dragged. There just wasn’t much of a story to it and I wonder how it ever would have functioned as a standalone book…as the most interesting parts for me were in direct relation to what GSAW tells us about TKAM. I definitely agree with you that GSAW is not a “novel” per se. More of a historically significant manuscript?

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yes the historical significance makes it a treasure. I too loved the flashbacks but found that this related to today’s issues as well.

  36. kindlemom1

    I had no idea Witherspoon narrated, that is awesome. I can just imagine how good she is at it.
    Glad you were able to read/listen to this and enjoy it Kim, flaws and all.