There has been so much hype, controversy and discussion about Go Set a Watchman that I was almost nervous to read it. It came out last month, and is the “sequel” to Harper Lee’s famous 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet calling it a “sequel” is misleading. It is in fact a first draft manuscript of a novel that Lee wrote before writing To Kill a Mockingbird; it theoretically takes place after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, and deals with many of the same characters. It follows Scout – now known as Jean Louise – when she is in her mid-twenties, returning to her home town after years in New York, to find her neighbourhood and her family not quite as she remembered them. The history of this manuscript is roughly this: on reading the original draft of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s editor suggested that the strongest sections were flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood and teenage years, and so Lee went away about wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. The manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was lost or hidden or at least unread – until now.
I think it’s very important to remember that Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a rough first draft of the characters and world that became To Kill a Mockingbird. If you read it as a sequel, I think you might be disappointed – but if you read it as an interesting insight into how To Kill a Mockingbird as a novel came to be, then I hope you will not be.