Have you ever finished a novel and wished you knew what happened to the characters after the final page has been turned? It looks as if you may be able to have that experience with one of America’s greatest classics. Last week it was announced that Harper Lee is going to release another novel after 55 yrs, somewhat of a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. The new novel, Go Set A Watchman, is set to be released by HarperCollins on July 14th, 2015, with an initial print run of two million copies. It’s set twenty years after To Kill a Mockingbird, in the fictional town of Macomb, Alabama when Jean Louise Finch , or “Scout” goes back to visit her father. The novel, with similarities To Kill a Mockingbird, deals with the racial tensions of the 1950s, as well as the complex relationship between father and daughter.
It seems that the manuscript, which was recently found in Ms. Harper’s boxes in storage, was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, and was the first manuscript she tried to get published. Ms Lee was a young writer – as yet unpublished- and took the advice given by her editor who liked Scout’s flashbacks and thought the real story should be about Scout as a young girl. And so Harper Lee went back and revised her manuscript and To Kill a Mockingbird became her first novel, and the classic that has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.
“I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told,” Ms. Lee said in a statement released by her publisher.
My initial excitement of a new novel by Harper Lee was at first tempered by the thought that perhaps the manuscript would not be as good as the classic. But then I thought even if it wouldn’t be, why should it matter? In fact as a writer, I was interested in reading the story that was the genesis for the final novel published back in 1960. Often the story a novelist starts out to write turns out to be something completely different, and the one that was meant to be told comes out. I had this experience myself with my first novel. It was initially set in Berkeley, CA in 1969, but ended up being set in Italy in the 1940s.
I read a couple more articles about the upcoming publication of Go Set A Watchman, and the questions that were raised surrounded the issue of whether Ms. Lee is actually involved in the process. Harper Lee is now 88 and lives in an Assisted Living facility in Monroeville, Alabama. She is both deaf and blind, and until recently her affairs had been largely looked after by her sister Alice who died last year at 104. Obviously the family must have used a lawyer too. But now that Alice is no longer there to monitor Harper Lee’s affairs, the question has been asked as to who exactly has control over the situation, or been negotiating the deal with HarperCollins, and ultimately who will benefit from the publication of a book that is destined to be a big seller?
I suspect that we, as the general public will never know all the answers, and certainly not at the moment, and will have to be satisfied with speculation. So I am going to look at it from the perspective of both a reader and a writer, and hope that Ms. Lee herself will have at least some benefit from the publication, and that her fans are given an opportunity to see a little more of her journey of becoming the talented author that wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m not expecting Go Set A Watchman to be as polished, as indeed it’s being published without the benefit of the level of editing usually given a published work, so that it is true to Harper Lee’s original manuscript.
This is probably a unique situation actually, as most ‘lost’ manuscripts tend to turn up after the writer has died. However convoluted the unanswered questions behind the scenes may be, I feel grateful that we are being treated to more of Harper Lee’s writing, and I hope she gets the accolades she will doubtless deserve once the book reaches publication.
What’s your opinion of the upcoming sequel? Are you excited? Do you have concerns about it? Would you rather To Kill A Mockingbird remain Ms. Lee’s only novel?
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