Harper Lee: A New Novel for a New Generation?

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George R. R. Martin is notorious for making fans of his Game of Thrones series wait years between books, but even he pales in comparison to the recent news that Harper Lee, author of acclaimed novel To Kill A Mockingbird, is to release her second novel fifty-five years after her last publication. Mockingbird, first published in July 1960, has sold more than 40 million copies around the world, and is widely regarded as an American classic and perhaps even the best-selling novel of the 20th century. In the UK alone, the novel has a large following due to its prevalence in English classrooms across the country. Now, half a century later, and Lee is set to publish Go Set a Watchman on the 14th July this year after its original manuscript was uncovered last year by Lee’s lawyer. 
The novel was initially completed in the 1950s but put aside after an editor told Lee to write a revised version from the point of view of Scout as a young child, which later became Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman has been described as a ‘-quel’ to Mockingbird as although it was written prior to the hugely successful Pulitzer Prize-winning Mockingbird, the novel tells the story of protagonist Scout Finch as an adult. Although very little detail regarding the plot has been revealed, it seems that Scout will be returning to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama from New York to visit her father, Atticus during the racial turmoil of the 1950s as opposed to Mockingbird’s 1930s setting.

It might seem strange that 88-year-old Lee has agreed to publish a second novel, as ever since Mockingbird the author has shied from the spotlight, often being adamant that she would not publish another book and keeping mainly to herself. However, it has been stated that although Lee was unaware that the manuscript for her first novel had survived, she was delighted when it was uncovered and is “humbled and amazed” that it will be published after such a long time.

Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nevertheless, this has not helped to quell the rumours surfacing about whether or not Lee was pressured into releasing the ‘lost’ novel after such a long time. The timing in particular has been the cause of much scepticism, as the uncovering of the manuscript comes only months after Lee’s older sister Alice, who was known for shielding Lee from the outside world, passed away. As a result, there have been suggestions that Lee was manipulated into signing the book deal without the protection of her sister.

Lee’s mental faculty has also been questioned, as it is common knowledge that she presently resides in an Alabama assisted living facility following a stroke in 2007, and only issues statements through her foreign rights agent and lawyer, Tanja Carter, who found the manuscript. Residents of Lee’s hometown Monroeville, Alabama have thus expressed concern about whether she was of sound mind when signing the book deal, and Lee’s sister Alice was also quoted in 2011 to have said that: “Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” With claims like this circulating at the current point in time, many are suspicious of how much the 88-year-old author was involved in the decision to publish Go Set a Watchman. 
However, Lee’s lawyer Carter has stated that fans and critics alike ought not to focus on the speculation surrounding the decades-old manuscript, but instead on “the gift that Harper Lee is giving the world.” But will it be a gift or a disappointment? Certainly a lot of pressure rests on Go Set a Watchman, as days after news of its upcoming release it rose to the top of the Bestseller charts, despite not being released for another five months. The publishers, HarperCollins are set to produce an initial print run of two million copies, but one can only assume that many more copies will follow given the hype surrounding the novel and will most likely be the bestselling book of 2015.

After such an impressive first novel, fans will be wondering whether Mockingbird was simply a one-hit-wonder, particularly given Watchman’s initial rejection from Lee’s editor in the 1950s, creating the fear that it may turn out to be of sub-standard quality. Nevertheless, regardless of the novel quality, it is to be a sure-fire success if only due to the speculation surrounding it which has helped to increase interest in the forthcoming novel. Needless to say, I, and many others, are anticipating the release of what may well be the novel of a generation.

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