Go Set A Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel

Debra H. GoldsteinGo 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.

This blog originally was posted on The Stiletto Gang http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/ on August 14, 2015. The Stiletto Gang blogspot is written by eight mystery and romance writers. I blog for The Stiletto Gang on the second and fourth Fridays of each month and post a personal or guest blog on It’s Not Always a Mystery every other Monday.  This is the first time I have ever reposted a piece from the other blog, but living in Alabama and reading the local and national media controversy respecting the publication of Go Set A Watchman, I can’t resist sharing my opinion in this venue, too.  Debra

0 thoughts on “Go Set A Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel”

  1. Debra, I agree with your analysis. There is much good in this draft and I think the editor right pointed out the strength of her writing and charm with the scenes from childhood.

    1. Appreciate your remarks. There truly was a distinction in her writing of the scenes from childhood and how she tried to express her social awareness thoughts through long dialogue scenes that told rather than showed. As you well know, I’m particularly sensitive to the need for a writer (me) to learn the difference between show and tell ….and comparing Watchman and Mockingbird was an excellent lesson in the difference.

  2. Yours is a fine analysis of a book that never should have been published. Watchman detracts from the brilliance of the finished Mockingbird. A comparison of the two books provides us with a good example of what so-so writing can become when an author willingly works with a good editor to polish a novel. I, for one, am sorry that Harper Lee gave in to the pressure to publish Watchman. Something tells me that someone took advantage of her age and physical condition to push its publication.

    1. Although I can’t comment from a point of knowledge on your last statement, I definitely feel that the difference between the two books illustrates what editing and revision can accomplish in terms of anyone’s works…but particularly in this instance.

  3. Debra, this is the best analysis I’ve read. I’d planned to write a post about Go Set a Watchman but decided against it. However, your post provides me with a great jumping-off point. Do you mind if I add my thoughts on Austin Mystery Writers?

  4. Always glad to have the unseen editor get a little credit! Nice review, Debra. Reinforces my inclination not to read the new one. My reading pile is too tall already!

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