Go Set a Watchman, the To Kill a Mockingbird sequel that
is also a prequel, has the literary world on pens and needles
What is being called an historic literary and cultural event set tongues wagging across the globe when it was announced recently that literary icon and beloved author, Harper Lee, would be publishing a “new book” this July.
And no wonder, the stunning news came in the wake of the author, now 88 years old, soberly declaring just a few years ago that she would not be releasing another book. At the time, she bolstered that declaration, saying, ” … all I have to say” was said with the publication of her then one — and only — novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.
That book, which according to industry reports has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, is a classic, on par with the best literature America has to offer, and it’s Pulitzer Price-winning pedigree helped spawn a classic, 1962 movie of the same title, and was also a driving force behind Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
The news of the new novel, however, was a seismic tremor. Fans and others who followed the “very private” author’s life, as much as is possible from a distance, were suddenly concerned that the elderly writer — who was reportedly suffering from hearing loss and macular degeneration, and had also suffered a stroke a few years earlier — might be incapable of handling her own affairs, and could be the victim of selfish “handlers” bent on exploiting her fame for their own gain.
Still others fretted that the new book might not be up to Lee’s high standards, which might be why it wasn’t published previously, and that it’s publication now would taint Lee’s reputation. These fans also believed that Lee — if she were truly in control — would not allow the publication of this book.
I have to admit I had some concerns, too, even though I was hoping, big time, that Lee was still in control of her faculties and publication of the book was what she wanted. This is such a rare occurrence — in my lifetime anyway. According to reports, Go Set a Watchman was written in the 1950’s, before To Kill a Mockingbird. The book includes many of the same characters who appear in the other book, but is set about 20 years later in time, when Scout, the young-girl narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a working woman, who comes back to her small, Alabama hometown to visit her father and friends.
Lee’s editor at the time supposedly convinced her to shelve Go Set a Watchman and try to tell the story through the eyes of the young girl, Scout, which Lee did, to much praise, accolades and honors.
The earlier, unpublished book was then lost among other papers for decades, and only found late last year. Lee, herself, reportedly thought the manuscript was a goner. Concerns surrounding the elderly writer’s health and the mysterious circumstances connected with the discovery of the long-lost novel, led Alabama state officials to conduct an investigation to determine if Lee were physically and mentally capable of deciding how she wanted to handle her affairs.
That investigation concluded that she is — and as her literary agent has said — she is as quick-witted as ever. That is comforting and exciting news for those of us who appreciate her super-sized talent, her humanity and concern for others — evident in her work — and her determination to live her life in her small town and not be blinded by the bright lights of the big city, fame, fortune and the unrealistic demands of those who expect to virtually live in the back pocket of those they admire and literally claim for themselves.
She decided she didn’t want to be worshiped by fans, hounded by the media, or have to answer to others’ expectations of how she should live and what she ought to “give to the world.”
Too many other celebrities: great writers, singers, painters, dancers, etc., succumb — and fall down that rat hole she so carefully avoided. And, as her literary agent said: Although others painted her as a recluse, because they couldn’t get close to her, she was not a recluse — just private. And bully for her.
The day after Go Set a Watchman’s July 14 publication was announced, the book was already No. 1 with a bullet on Amazon.
Hooray for a woman who apparently lived her life in proper perspective.