'Watchman' is 'genuine literary event', says Lawson

'Watchman' is 'genuine literary event', says Lawson

Two early reviews have been published for Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, published tomorrow (14th July), with Mark Lawson in the Guardian billing it "in most respects, a new work, and a pleasure, revelation and genuine literary event."

Meanwhile the New York Times, which published its embargo-breaking review on Friday (10th), describes it as "disturbing reading" which is "especially disorienting" for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird

The key factor is the change in the depiction of Atticus Finch, the liberal lawyer hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, with views on race decades ahead of his countrymen. In Go Set a Watchman, Atticus is seen, to the horror of his daughter, to be attending public meetings to oppose equal voting rights.  As the New York Times puts it: "Scout is shocked to find…that her beloved father, who taught her everything she knows about fairness and compassion, has been affiliating with raving anti-integration, anti-black crazies, and the reader shares her horror and confusion." Go Set a Watchman also "lacks the lyricism" of To Kill a Mockingbird, says the NYT,  although portions of the book dealing with Scout's childhood and an adult romance "capture the daily rhythms of life in a small town and are peppered with portraits of minor characters whose circumscribed lives can feel like Barbara Pym salted with some down-home American humour."  

Writing in the Guardian today, Lawson has billed the book "much less likeable and school-teachable" than To Kill a Mockingbird, with Scout losing the "sassy swagger" that makes her so compelling as a child-narrator in the first-published version. Meanwhile the transformation of Scout's father Atticus Finch is "one of the book's great shocks," says Lawson, describing the revelations as "painful and shocking" to fans. 

He adds: "The shift in Atticus's attitudes proves to be nuanced and rooted in the deep political complexities of the south – which New York editors may reasonably have thought too obscure for a broader audience – but their excision…can also be accused of having liberally (in two senses) sanitised the contents." 

However Lawson says the book is a long way from "merely an earlier draft of the first one", with the two texts mostly independent from one another, voting Go Set a Watchman "in most respects, a new work, and a pleasure, revelation and genuine literary event." Lawson adds that "this publication intensifies the regret that Harper Lee published so little".

The Guardian published the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman online on Friday (10th), revealing the early death of one of the major characters in To Kill a Mockingbird.