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Go set a watchman

(15 Posts)
hackmum Thu 13-Aug-15 09:13:41

Anyone else read this yet? I've just finished. Not surprised the original publisher turned it down.

It has all the obvious first novel faults - no real story, lots of telling rather than showing, unconvincing dialogue and long set pieces that don't move the plot (such as it is) along.

The racism is also quite shocking. Jean Louise, who represents the anti-racist voice in the book, still comes out with some things that would today be considered racist.

I think there are two things that make it worth reading. One is that it does provide a snapshot of a particular place and time - the deep south in the 1950s. It shows you how white people in the south responded to the civil rights movement, and their reasons (mostly distasteful) for opposing it.

The other is that it does show it's possible to make the leap from being an average writer to a great one - the leap from Go set a watchman to To Kill a Mockingbird is extraordinary. I don't know whether she just worked harder or she felt inspired and it all came together but she clearly developed hugely as a writer between the two books. And that must be very encouraging for anyone who wants to be a creative writer.

Valsoldknickers Thu 13-Aug-15 09:20:55

I have only started and will have to stop mumsnetting and get on with reading it if I want to make any meaningful progress before Christmas!

Very interested in your comments though hackmum.

DuchessofMalfi Thu 13-Aug-15 17:05:04

I always wondered whether the rumours were true that Truman Capote had helped her write TKAM and maybe, if GSAW didn't get accepted by the publisher then, well who knows?

ShyGirlie Thu 13-Aug-15 18:41:25

I was really disappointed by GSAW having eagerly anticipated it since the announcement.

To be honest, if I had read GSAW first I probably wouldn't have gone on to read TKAM. Thank goodness for GCSE English Lit!

hackmum Fri 14-Aug-15 17:49:09

Oh, I'm sure the rumours about Truman Capote aren't true. That would be so sad if they were.

I do think that the person at the publishing house who said, "Why not take this one para and develop it into a novel" was either a genius or just hit very lucky. Because Mockingbird is a completely different novel, and in a different class altogether.

DuchessofMalfi Fri 14-Aug-15 17:58:03

I wasn't suggesting he wrote TKAM but rather that he may have given some pointers towards Harper Lee writing a more successful novel than GSAW.

In the film, Capote, it's implied that they worked closely together on his research for In Cold Blood, so I don't think it unreasonable to wonder whether he helped her achieve success. And isn't Dill in TKAM supposed to be based on him? Might be a small tribute.

hackmum Fri 14-Aug-15 18:52:14

Yes, you're right about Dill. So maybe he did give her pointers. They fell out over In Cold Blood, didn't they? Because he didn't acknowledge her part in it. Which came first, In Cold Blood or TKAM? (I know I could google but I'm sure you'll know.)

notquitegrownup2 Fri 14-Aug-15 18:58:54

I heard a radio 4 interview some while back in which the editor of TKAM was given a lot of credit for building the novel and working with Harper Lee - and editor who was not around for GSAW . . .

Bother! Just accidentally clicked on a Daily Fail interview with the editor's grand-daughter (Tay Hohoff is named there as the editor)

hackmum Sat 15-Aug-15 14:24:04

That's interesting, notquite. It makes a lot of sense to me - TKAM is a very different beast from Watchman, and it seems to have been structured by someone who knew how to write a novel. You can imagine Tay Hohoff repeating "Show, don't tell", telling her to get rid of long chunks of boring argument and making sure that every scene moves the plot along.

What I find fascinating about the difference between Watchman and TKAM is that it reminds us that writing a novel is a craft. People tend to treat TKAM with a kind of reverence, because of the moral purity of its message. Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that there has been very little literary criticism of the book because it seems to stand above literary criticism - it has this special status in modern American life (and arguably mythology). In reality it has been very carefully crafted to put over a particular point of view. (Nothing wrong with that at all, of course - it couldn't be any other way. ) Harper Lee is a writer, not a saint.

YeOldeTrout Sat 15-Aug-15 19:49:23

I am enjoying this a lot, just on the radio not reading in print, though, so probably quite edited. For me the story in GSAW makes so much more sense than TKAM and it fills in the gaps I couldn't understand in TKAM. GSAW is just so much more real and takes head on the real issues of flawed people.

YeOldeTrout Sat 15-Aug-15 20:27:40

omg, I just heard the Weds night episode, the post-skinny dipping discussion is the funniest thing I've heard on radio in ages "Hope you weren't doing the backstroke..."

Jedi1 Sat 15-Aug-15 20:29:20

I was really disappointed although it did fill in the gaps. I think atticus has been wrongly vilified in the reviews too.

YeOldeTrout Sat 15-Aug-15 21:57:48

I haven't read GSAW, but the impression I get is...

In the original story it niggled at me that Atticus didn't make sense. The book tells us so much that he is a product of his time and place & family history and he is a deeply southern man. So how can he seem to go against his community and the culture around him.

There were plenty of slaveowners who talked up their role as some kind of benign keepers of their 'stock' and made provisions for retired slaves to have a gentle life, etc. It seems to me that this is the tradition Atticus came from, as well as yes he disliked injustice against individuals (in spite of their race). But he didn't actually want to change the status quo about white-black southern relations. That much was clear to me TKAM, too. This dichotomy between the good man and the man stuck in his cultural prejudices is clearer now in GSAW.

Plus TKAM is seen with the innocent rosy-eyes of a child who doesn't understand some of the nuances and hero worships her dad. GSAW is the realist view of a woman seeing the truth about people she loves but must reject their values. For me it's a painful view of how good people can do bad things. Atticus is noble witty affectionate & admirable in GSAW, too, I like the flawed Atticus much more because he's so much more genuine.

Aunt Alexandra is simply brill, too.

hackmum Sun 16-Aug-15 10:15:21

YeOldeTrout - that's a good point. I think you're absolutely right: the adult Scout is shocked at how a man who has always seemed noble and admirable can hold what to her are morally untenable views. But we are all a product of our time and place - I think that's what Lee is saying.

Sixty years on, it's a hell of a shock to read it because it seems unfathomable now that someone who was basically decent could hold views that we regard as not just distasteful but profoundly morally wrong. It's useful to be reminded of that.

But I still think it's nota very good book...

YeOldeTrout Sun 16-Aug-15 11:04:35

I read that Harper Lee refused to edit GSAW after the first draft, not even for style iyswim. Which is a shame. Also I suppose the message that good people can do bad things, we still struggle with that one. But it must be how a lot of southerners felt in the 50s, they didn't want their loved ones to be vilified.

I was listening to the story of how first HPotter book finally got accepted for publication, after so many yrs of rejections I imagine JKR revised and revised the first 3 books she had written and also had plotted everything out in great detail which is why (considering all the plot lines) most things tie up so well. Maybe that's why the first 3 books are so much shorter than the rest, JKR had a lot of time by then to pare down the unnecessary stuff.

It's a bit vain to think your first version is the right one.

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