Harper Lee sent the literary universe into a spin on Tuesday after she announced she would be releasing a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird this summer – 55 years after her debut.
The novel, Go Set a Watchman, was written by Lee before To Kill a Mockingbird, but is set some 20 years later. It features Lee’s beloved character Scout as an adult, returning to her home town of Maycomb from New York to visit Atticus, her lawyer father, along with many of the characters from Lee’s debut. In a statement attributed to her by her publisher, Lee said that Go Set a Watchman was completed in the mid-1950s, but she believed the original manuscript had been lost.
At Foyles booksellers in London, Jonathan Ruppin described the news as being “as big as it gets for new fiction”. “We can close the book on the bestselling novel of 2015 right now. At Foyles today, we’re absolutely fizzing with excitement and frenzied speculation: it’s the only topic of conversation,” said the bookseller, adding that even though To Kill a Mockingbird has long been acknowledged as a classic, it “is a book that still surprises new readers with its power. Its story is arresting and profound, its characters vivid and entirely convincing, so the prospect of a follow-up, after all these years, is giddyingly thrilling”.
However, Dr Ian Patterson at Cambridge University was underwhelmed by the news. “I can’t but imagine it must be of historical interest rather than anything else, at this point,” he said. “It will doubtless be eagerly read by fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, but that’s a soggy sentimental liberal novel if ever there was one. I’m always dubious of attempts to close the gap between fiction and reality, as in wanting to know what happens to characters outside a novel’s confines – Tom Jones with Alzheimer’s, Mr Darcy’s daughters or, as here, Scout grown up. I expect it will garner lots of short-term interest on those grounds, and on the grounds of being another novel by a one-novel writer.”
Alison Flood/Paul Lewis; The Guardian, Tuesday 3rd February 2015