Tuesday, June 23, 2015

July 2015 Preview: Go Set A Watchman, by Harper Lee

Harper Lee's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), was the sole publication by the author for more than a half-century. It was a bestseller, won critical acclaim, was voted best novel of the century in 1999 in a Library Journal poll, and an estimated 30 million copies are in print. Over the years, the shy author has received numerous honorary degrees, though she has declined to attend in every instance. She has also, in almost every case, avoided any interaction with reporters and would-be biographers, stonewalling against queries whether she was still writing and whether she intended to publish a second novel--in fact, she has long vowed that she would not publish again. Lee has been quite a recluse, in fact, spending decades sequestered in her small Alabama hometown protected by friends as well as her older sister Alice, a lawyer who practiced into her 90s and who passed away in 2014. Lee also suffered a stroke in 2007, leaving her nearly blind and deaf.

So the announcement of the first Harper Lee novel in fifty-five years, Go Set A Watchman, reportedly written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird and rejected for publication then ignored for 60 years,  has been met with equal parts awe and skepticism. Awe, because a second novel from Lee is a gift that readers had long since stopped even daring to dream of. And skepticism, because it has only been since the passing of her sister Alice that Harper Lee has apparently considered publishing this second book, reportedly a prequel to Mockingbird. Lee's new attorney, Tonja Carter, reportedly found the manuscript and broached the subject of publication with Lee, who in light of her declining health decided it was time to publish. This story is supported by Lee's international rights agent, Andrew Nurnberg. There are a number of articles which have been published on the topic for those who are interested to see what all the kerfuffle is about.

As for me? I'd recently read Marja Mills's The Mockingbird Next Door (2014), which recounts the journalist's personal friendship with Lee and her sister Alice, which developed while Mills was living nextdoor to the Lee sisters in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. A great part of what the Lee sisters shared with Mills was the circumstances surrounding Lee's decision never to publish again after Mockingbird. While I cannot deny my own personal curiosity regarding the new book, I cannot quiet my unease that in some way this publication does Lee herself a disservice. Each reader will have to judge for him- or herself. Street date for the novel is July 14, 2015.

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