If you're going to enjoy Go Set a Watchman, you need to come at it with an appropriate mindset. I'll do my best to explain mine.
What GSaW is not: ThisIf you're going to enjoy Go Set a Watchman, you need to come at it with an appropriate mindset. I'll do my best to explain mine.
What GSaW is not: This is not a prequel or sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Neither is it a chance to learn more about Atticus or Scout (Jean Louise) or the people of Maycomb you came to know and love when you read TKaM as a kiddo. While it certainly offers commentary on race and the Southern tensions surrounding it, GSaW is not commenting on the current state of these. Nor is this even a completed, edited-for-publishing novel.
What GSaW is: Go Set a Watchman can best be read and appreciated as a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. And an early one at that. You'll note I won't refer to GSaW as a "book", because it's not. Written a full three years before TKaM's release, it is what her editor saw as the building blocks of a better, more nuanced story. And TKaM was born from it. This version of the story was therefore left largely unedited, which explains why it rambles at times, switches from 1st to 3rd person narration, and lapses into long speeches rather than story to reveal the author's intent.
Similarly, the characters within GSaW are based on memories of Harper Lee's youth. They aren't revisions or further revelations of TKaM's characters but perhaps could be appreciated as rougher sketches of them. Here Atticus and Dill are more a version of real people (Lee's father and childhood friend Truman Capote, respectively) than characters in their own right. As she grew as a writer, so too did Atticus become the archetypal father we love, "Atticus". (It's worth noting that Lee's father was also a lawyer who also defended a man – two actually – in a case with echos of Tom Robinson's.)
Most of all, for those complaining about its commentary on race and the South, GSaW must be understood as a picture of where those stood in Alabama in the late 1950s. To read the views of Atticus or Uncle Jack or Henry and to be viscerally upset by them is to react as if they were written in 2015. Today, rather, they are merely a snapshot of the South in the 1950s. And that picture can be upsetting. But just as a person 25 years from now will likely see our current social views as antiquated (and quite possibly even disturbing), it's an odd thing for us to look back over 50 years and point a damning finger, exclaiming "How dare they!" While obviously disagreeing with the views of the GSaW characters, I choose to look at them as an interesting commentary of their time, within their time.
So is the book good or bad? Well, if it's a book, it's rather terrible. But as a manuscript – a fledgling draft of To Kill a Mockingbird – I think it's pretty fascinating. Lines can clearly be traced from one to the other. It's interesting to consider that TKaM is being narrated by a Scout that's roughly the same age as she is in GSaW. I'm still digging through why certain characters were elevated and others weren't. (Interesting fact: Lee had an older brother Edwin ~6 years her senior who, like Jem, died as a young adult.) And I've enjoyed nerding out trying to deconstruct the process of getting to TKaM (a masterpiece) from GSaW (which had promise but clearly needed work).
My bet (and hope) is that Go Set a Watchman becomes something studied and viewed as an origin to what remains Harper Lee's only novel, nothing more. Were it later released with additional in-between drafts on its road to TKaM and offering commentary on each, I'd be even more interested.
Oddly similar to THE BOOK THIEF –in too many ways: An plucky young girl who finds herself swept up in the drama of WWIIA wonderful read. For a while.
Oddly similar to THE BOOK THIEF – in too many ways: An plucky young girl who finds herself swept up in the drama of WWII. A doting, charming father figure who watches over her. A charming Nazi boy (who never really wanted to be a Nazi) finds his life orbiting hers. A secondary male character whom she forms a touching bond with (Max - Book Thief, Uncle - All the Light) as the war rages around them. A love of books. A lot of beauty. Some gut-wrenching tragedy thrown in.
Yeah, when I write it out, there are a good bit of overlap (a lot of character, some story) between these books.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with ALL THE LIGHT is the final few chapters. (To keep it simple and not give anything away, I'm referring to after the bombing concludes in the town.) Which is to say I have a problem with the ending. Which, yes, is a pretty big problem to have.
I don't think I appreciate (yet?) what the author was trying to achieve with this quasi-epilogue. It felt like an unnecessary attempt to tie a bow on things... all because the author couldn't achieve a fitting conclusion in the years in which the rest of the story takes place. Keeping things in the 40's would've felt more "right" and complete. Instead we are ripped away from the world we've with bound our hearts to, placed in an awkwardly added commentary on the current i-culture we're a part of. ...in a WWII novel? Radio-good, iPhone-bad! Huh?
There's also a question of intended tone and purpose. The story sets up as a a historical drama mixed with the wonder of a mythical diamond and the parable surrounding it. The central characters are children, whose imagination, dreams and love for radio (as well as puzzles and seashells) create a beautiful story within the tragedy of war. Yet for all this wonder/awe/setup, we are left with a non-conclusive ending riddled with death, disillusionment and melancholy. Oh, and rape. A very odd and unsatisfying shift. The story already has tragedy and loss and sadness laced throughout. And these earlier moments feel more real, honest. Yet the final dose is so heavy-handed and forced, it spoils all that comes before it.
To sum up: ALL THE LIGHT is wonderful at times, losing steam and purpose in the final laps. And because I've already read THE BOOK THIEF -- a truly magical book that is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever enjoyed -- the gaggle of similarities left me saddened by the too-many moments where ALL THE LIGHT couldn't quite measure up....more
Me: "I wish I could give this book less than one star." Glader: "Well you can't." Me: "Is there a reason?" Glader: "Maybe." Me: "No, but seriously. I'd liMe: "I wish I could give this book less than one star." Glader: "Well you can't." Me: "Is there a reason?" Glader: "Maybe." Me: "No, but seriously. I'd like to know why." Glader: "Don't worry about it, greenie." Me: "It seems like a useful question. If I can give a book a full 5-stars, why can't I give it an empty 0-stars?" Glader: "Look, you shucking shank. Maybe I know the answer, and maybe I don't. But I'm not going to tell you because when you find out the answer, you'll totally klunk your pants." Me: "So you're withholding simple, known information for the sake of mystery?" Glader: "Maybe." Me: "But, that's not how mysteries work. Mysteries actually present bits of information and misinformation throughout the story to keep the audience engaged and guessing what the solution might be." Glader: "Maybe it's not supposed to be a mystery then." Me: "Uh, that's entirely what it is. What's the maze? Who built it? How do they get out? The core of the book is a mystery. So yeah, it's meant to be a mystery." Glader: "Listen, greenie klunkity-klunk shuck-shuck-shuckity shanker--" Me: "Do you think those are swear words? Glader: "Klunk right I do!" Me: "Because the other gladers clearly know real swear words and how bodily functions work, and I haven't seen a moment in recorded history when teenage boys would shy away from actual cussing in front of other teenage boys." Glader: "I have a reason, ok. Don't ask, though. I might suddenly reveal why in 100 pages or so. For now: just do what I tell you." Me: "Do whatever you tell me? Without reason? Has any teenage boy ever been ok with that?" Glader: "If I told you the truth, it'd shuck your mind." Me: "Pretty sure it wouldn't." Glader: "In a book where – time and again – the only possible solution turns out to be... the only possible solution? I'm pretty sure it will." Me: "...You do have a point." Glader: "Shuck right I do!" Me: "But that's one of the reasons I want to give it 0-stars." Glader: "Really? That's the only reason? Klunk-yeah!" Me: "Well, there's also the under-developed plot, the flat writing, the mindlessness of every character except for the protagonist (who himself has no personality), how every time a hardship arrives a different character throws up his arms and says how they should all give up--" Glader: "Maybe you should just give up on this review!" Me: "My point exactly. But seriously. If you're stuck in a maze for 2+ years, don't tell me you've explored every possible way out, if –when a new character arrives– everything he does is something nobody else has done before." Glader: "Didn't you at least like the title?" Me: "..." Glader: "What, klunk head?" Me: "To be honest, it sounded about a half-step away from naming the book Connect Four! And from what I've read of the following books: all the build-up of why they're in the maze and it's eventual purpose? Basically gets contradicted time and again and serves no purpose." Glader: "Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. But I'm not going to tell you." Me: "Seriously. You're the worst."...more
The wearyingly boring tale of an aging woman who never does much of anything, telling the story of her youth where she passively never does much of anThe wearyingly boring tale of an aging woman who never does much of anything, telling the story of her youth where she passively never does much of anything (life happens to her, never the other way around), all while reading a book her sister wrote, which tells the story of an affair (the affair's consummation is inferred) between a humdrum wealthy girl and a poor, crabby writer who vocally abuses her (which she never does anything about) between bouts of telling her science fiction stories worthy of "Astounding Science Fiction".
A wide chasm exists between the assumed kinfolk subtlety and passivity. Grade school writing classes hammer into our skulls the merits of avoiding the latter. Sadly, this novel bludgeons you with it. Clearly the intent is to tip-toe around that which is really going on... yet 500+ pages of tip-toeing is not subtlety. It's mind-numbingly boring. And the story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure is hardly redemptive.
Top-Level Story: Iris Chase is old. So old that nearly every reference in her life is in the past tense. Even her dawdling off to buy a donut in the morning is something that's already been done. And that's about all she does: buy donuts and read graffiti in public bathroom stalls. Oh, and to tell the...
1st-Level-Down Story: Iris Chase is young. Her dad is wealthy, so neither she nor her sister go to school. They sit at home. Nor does Young Iris ever need to make a decision for herself. So: she doesn't. This is hammered home by her past tense stories passively telling of events further in the past! Never does she simply go to the park. Rather, the reader is told "We had been to the park earlier that day." B-O-R-I-N-G. Or rather: "I had decided after I had completed the book that it was B-O-R-I-N-G."
Book-Within-the-Story: A wealthy lady has an affair with a poor jerk. The jerk verbally abuses her; she never does anything in response (save for sleeping with him). He's a hack of a sci-fi writer, so he tells her a story...
Tale-Within-the-Book-Within-the-Story: Perhaps the only redeeming part of the book. The story – through subtlety, inference and thematic parallels – actively gives "meat" to the rest of the novel. Which is assuredly why it shares the title with the actual novel itself. Sadly, the tale is short and not enough to redeem the concrete shoes that is the rest of this book.
5th-Wheel of the Story: Oh yeah. And to further bludgeon us with the passivity of matters, the novel is sprinkled with newspaper clippings, which (*sigh*) again tell us passively and in the past tense of events that had happened. No, we never experience these events. We're just told they occurred. And perhaps that's the overarching problem with the book: the reader is never given a chance to "experience" the story. Blah.
Clearly, Margaret Atwood is a gifted writer. Many descriptive passages throughout this novel are lovely, and several turns of phrase are worthy of an underline. But this was an awful choice of what book of hers to read first. Iris Chase's pitiful life – in the end – is her own damned fault, and to highlight a life of passivity, inaction, and boredom is (you guessed it) BORING. Horrifically so.
So I guess if this was meant to be a horrifically boring story, then it was executed beautifully....more
OK, it's not strictly nonfiction per se... But it's as close to a true crime novel as you'll get.
Our book club searched for the best mystery novels ofOK, it's not strictly nonfiction per se... But it's as close to a true crime novel as you'll get.
Our book club searched for the best mystery novels of all time and this was surprisingly at the top of the list (because none of us had heard of it). Turned out to be a fascinating read focusing on the history of the infamous King Richard III. And quick too. Only around 180 pages.
Give it a quick read... and then look at all the recent news on the very same subject that's just come to the surface. You'll enjoy yourself....more
Ooof. Based on some of the reviews, I had medium-to-high hopes for this book. Maybe it's worth two stars - maybe - but my initial impressions are... eOoof. Based on some of the reviews, I had medium-to-high hopes for this book. Maybe it's worth two stars - maybe - but my initial impressions are... er... bad. EDIT: I've given it some time: one star. (And I'm rounding up.)
While the novel's concept is a decent jumping off point, the author's writing style just killed it for me. ("Killed" in the unfavorable context.) Ishiguro is horribly repetitive, grinding out long, unnecessary sentences creating by far the longest 300 page book I've ever waded my way through. Perhaps a representative sample (made up by me) of the author's writing style will give you an idea? Here's ya go:
"Sally was a dear friend of mine. When I say Sally was a friend, I mean that she and I were the same year at school and spent time together from time to time. Sally and I would often treat one another as friends, doing friendly things of all manner. When I say we did friendly things together, I mean that many of our activities were done in the context of friendship - whether just the two of us or in a group of friends. Our friendship was something that our friendship was based upon, and the friendliness was something that was dear to me while we were in school together."
That. For 300 pages.
It's not depth. It's not subtlety. It's not nuance. It's... dull repetition. If Shakespeare is correct that "Brevity is the soul of wit", Ishiguro just might be a soul-sucking zombie, whose wit died out in some previous work. And you should barricade your home.
Yes, the story's eerie tone helps entice the reader. At first. Think a mash-up of PD James' "Children of Men" and Michael Bay's "The Island" (ouch). But this was never meant to be the focus of the story. (Readers expecting/waiting for a big "A-ha!" moment -- due to the story's setup -- will be disappointed; this is not The Sixth Sense or Witness for the Prosecution.) Rather, this book is intended as a longgggggggg, slowwwwwwww, blunt-force trauma commentary on individuality, racial/class divisions, and how nasty school children can be to one another. Unfortunately, any subtlety is maddeningly blown apart by -- have I mentioned it before? -- the author's repeated insistence to have his narrator repeat herself right after she's done restating what she's just said a few times. (She's boring.)
Sadly (yes, "for me"), this came off as yet another "No matter who you are, life is bleak and sucks... and then we all die" tale with little redeeming value beyond spurring me toward an even greater appreciation for Hemingway. Depth AND brevity? Good on ya, Ernest....more
After a few months of dour (though certainly good) books on rather dark (yeah, just dark) subject matter, our book club found itself reading The ShadoAfter a few months of dour (though certainly good) books on rather dark (yeah, just dark) subject matter, our book club found itself reading The Shadow of the Wind. When I say reading, I mean that you start off reading... only to find yourself tumbling uncontrollably (head first!) into this enchanting world. And you wish you were tumbling faster.
Just a pleasure to get lost in. I'll stop writing because you need to get started reading SotW.
Might up this to a coveted "5 star" rating, but waiting to digest it a bit more and discuss with the rest of the club.