Originally, this article was titled "Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Other Literary One-Hit Wonders". After all, J. B. Lippincott & Co. published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, and despite its unstoppable, overwhelming success - or perhaps, in part, because of it - Lee took herself out of the spotlight in 1964, refusing any further publicity for herself or the book, and never published another. Fast forward over 50 years, and in February 2015, the literary world exploded (we love that) with the staggering news that the manuscript for Lee's second novel, which everyone, including Lee herself, had thought long lost, had been found, and would be published in July 2015. The title of the new novel was to be Go Set a Watchman, and Lee describes it as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, though curiously, she wrote it first.
Go Set a Watchman is set two decades ahead of Mockingbird, and tells the story of an adult Scout Finch returning home to Maycomb Alabama (the same fictional, Southern town from Mockingbird) to visit her father, Atticus. When Watchman was completed, Lee's editor commented that the flashbacks in the book, depicting Scout's childhood, were powerful enough that Lee should consider writing another book set earlier in the lives of the Finch family. That suggestion gave us Mockingbird.
While it all seems a miraculous fairytale, and a gift to the countless numbers of us who have loved, read, re-read and memorised Mockingbird, the story of Watchman's discovery has not been without its blemishes. There was some suspicion regarding the timing of the manuscript's announcement, and concerns of elder abuse came to light. Harper Lee is now nearly 90, and living in a care facility in her small town of Monroeville, Alabama. She is profoundly deaf and nearly blind, and there were those among her fans who questioned whether Lee, who has made no bones about her desire for privacy over the decades, was in a place to be able to fully consent to the book's publication. Was someone taking advantage of her alleged reduced capacity? Someone thought so, and made anonymous allegations to the Alabama authorities. Fortunately, those claims were taken seriously and investigated - and dismissed, by her friends, family and publisher, as well as the authorities. As of July 14th, 2015, Go Set a Watchman is available on shelves and ready to be read, savored, re-read, memorised and cherished.
If its reception is anything like its predecessor's, it will be quite a rollercoaster - To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than 40 languages and sold tens of million of copies. The book has been read and reread by millions of people around the world and is taught by countless tutors of English literature (although there is always a lunatic who wants it banned every year). We don't blink when it shows up on our bestseller lists here at AbeBooks.
The character of Dill was famously inspired by Lee's childhood friend, Truman Capote. Lee went with Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, when he was researching the details behind the murder of a family for a New Yorker feature - a story that eventually began In Cold Blood. Many characters are found in both novels.
Harper Lee is now nearly in her nineties. Apart from a few magazine articles in the 1960s, she never published anything else until the surprise surfacing of the Go Set a Watchman manuscript. By and large, she lives a private, small-town life, residing in a care facility in Monroeville, Alabama, and has managed to stay mostly out of the public eye.
In March 2015, an investigative journalist took it upon himself to set out on a quest for an interview with the elusive Lee. After numerous attempts to reach her, including visiting her nursing home, he wrote her a two-page, impassioned letter, citing concern for her well-being amidst all the rumours, and included a plea that she should respond to him, even if only to decline the interview opportunity. And for once - a rarity - Lee did respond. The journalist received his own letter back, crumpled and wrinkled, along with a four-word reply: "Go Away. - Harper Lee".
A publicity tour for Go Set a Watchman Seems unlikely.
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