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Monday, July 27, 2015

Go Set a Watchman- The Review

Since everybody about knows now that Atticus Finch was just a tired old racist, from all the gazillion reviews and discussions out there, there are probably no other major spoilers in this review.  However, if you are planning to read the book, please take a look at the review after you have read it.

I must confess that on first read, I devoured the book avidly, looking for oddities in the book that might signal not-HarperLee's actual words, but was completely mesmerized by the first few chapters. This couldn't be anyone else other than Harper Lee, I decided. Words like 'enisled', references to 'Asquithian atttitude' couldn't have been used by anyone else other than her.

All the stage-setting was very nice, with gorgeous little episodes of childhood, then weaving back to a  grown up Scout/Jean Louise as a 20-something sophisticate returning from New York to  her family and beau in small-town Alabama. The pacing started to flag, crawling slower than a rabid dog moseying along a deserted street on a blistering afternoon.

Then, suddenly, wham.

The grand reveal occurs with Jean Louise eavesdropping on a meeting attended by Atticus, and she discovers him to harbor the racist attitudes only too common in that era, not being the shining knight that he was in To Kill a Mockingbird.

After much emotional drama and anguishing, interspersed with odd chapters involving trains-of-thought bitching about old classmates at a 'Coffee' thrown by redoubtable Aunt Alexandra, Jean Louise works out her angst and finally comes to some terms with Atticus, after a deus ex machina attempt at reconciliation initiated by her uncle John.

Etc., etc. It hardly matters when the rest of story starts to read more like a screenplay than an actual novel.

I finished the novel feeling - " Wow, it's over and it was quite a ride! Harper Lee seems so prescient and almost topical in her portrayal of race relations that still raise so many troubling questions about race and the justice system in this day and age."

Then the doubts started to niggle as I read a few more reviews and Facebook comments. I reopened the book and started to do random comparisons in style with the text from To Kill a Mockingbird.

1. TKAM has characters speaking in complete paragraphs in most chapters. GSAW has them speaking in very short sentences, which would definitely tie in better with a screenplay.

2. The 'moving scene' with Calpurnia moves the reader only if we think of it in context of the closeness of Calpurnia to Scout in TKAM, which doesn't fit right with the contention that GSAW's manuscript predates TKAM.

3. In the 'Coffee', one of the trains-of-thought has odd references for the era." When Jerry was two months old...toilet training should really begin...the cutest sweatshirt you've ever seen...little red elephant...Crimson Tide"  ( edited for brevity).
Sweatshirts as a male fashion staple did not come in vogue until around the early 1960's, having only been a mainstay for college athletes in the 1930s-50s. It most certainly would not be considered suitably 'cute' attire for the Diaper set that the moms of the 'Coffee' were discussing.
Consider that TKAM, written c. 1957 and published in 1960, mentions no sweatshirts for establishing the sense of contemporaneity. While GSAW is supposedly written before TKAM, it contains too many 'Look Ma no hands!' references of this kind and sounds more like a novel based on a screenplay, complete with costume research indicators.

4. In the climactic chapter where the big discovery of Atticus's real attitude to race comes, the language is laughably cliched.  "She felt sick. Her stomach shut, she began to tremble....Every nerve in her body shrieked, then died. She was numb." is too egregious to ignore. It reads like too many bad climactic scenes in too many dystopian Young Adult novels.

These are just a few examples. I suppose I could make a career out of analyzing each reference that sounded off color on second review. But that isn't the point of this review.

I come to bury the myth of Harper Lee's writing GSAW, not to praise her writing, after all.

It's my conviction that we are seeing another publicity/money grab by the publishing/media/entertainment conglomerates. Over 1 million copies sold without extensive marketing and publicity needed, for this is the 'output' of the legendary Harper Lee, or so the customer is led to believe.

The original writing of Harper Lee is still there, primarily in the first half of the book, but on closer examination, I land  upon too many odd little 'explanatory' snippets, oddities of style that indicate not-Harper-Lee.

 The publishers have pulled in an excellent team of ghostwriters and maybe even screenwriters to massage the original partial-at-best manuscript into a coherent book, but the dissonancies introduced by them are scattered all over. 

All we need now is for some academic to do a comparison of writing styles between TKAM and GSAW and find that approximately 60% of the latter is filler material. Or maybe not, for who would want to go against a media monster claiming a princess in sacrifice. The Cetus of the publishing/media conglomerate must have its Andromeda, after all.

Once the buzz over GSAW the book wanes, watch for the screen version to be announced within the next few months. It's very likely that the casting is already decided. Let me guess, Robert DeNiro will play a suitably aged Atticus,  while the line of actresses to play Jean Louise, Alexandra and Calpurnia is already too long out the door and is the only thing still preventing them from announcing the movie any time too soon.

Either way, the moguls and moneymakers will have their way and humongous profits in the end, and some of it might go towards keeping an old lady in Monroeville, Alabama more comfortable in her sunset years, and to line the pockets of a 'loving caretaker' lawyer into the bargain.

More links of interest:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122318/harper-lees-go-set-watchman-should-not-have-been-published

http://futureofbookpublishing.blogspot.com/2012/04/state-of-publishing-industry-2015.html

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/27/bestselling-ghostwriter-reveals-secret-world