Sunday 24 September 2017

Ominous doubts surface over Lee Harper's book decision

US DIARY

Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel,
Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "To kill a Mockingbird," has announced that "Go Set a Watchman," a novel Lee completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released July 14. It will be her second published book. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

ORLA HEALY

Excitement over the news that Harper Lee will finally publish a second novel is taking an ominous turn as reports out of Alabama, where the 88-year-old resides in an assisted living facility, question whether the celebrated author was fully cognisant when she authorised the release of Go Set a Watchman for this summer.

Suspicions as to why Lee, who famously vowed to let To Kill A Mockingbird stand as her lone literary achievement, would choose to publish another novel started flying as soon as HarperCollins announced the deal on Tuesday. For starters, observers thought it odd that Lee would make such a startling decision just three months after the death of her sister Alice who, as a lawyer, so ferociously protected the author and her assets that she was known as "Atticus in a skirt".

Alice, who died last November, was succeeded as her sister's lawyer by Tonja Carter who not only negotiated the HarperCollins deal but also discovered the 304-page manuscript for Go Set a Watchman which Lee had written in the mid-50s. The book, which is being billed as a sequel to Lee's 1960 masterpiece, was actually written before Mockingbird and portrays Scout as an adult. At the time, Lee's editor suggested she rewrite from Scout's perspective as a young girl.

In last Tuesday's statement Lee was quoted as saying that she "was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered," the long-forgotten book and "after much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication." Locals in Lee's hometown of Monroeville told the Associated Press they are struggling to reconcile Lee's behaviour at Alice's funeral with "the cheerful, articulate" woman quoted in the press release.

"Seated in a wheelchair, Lee talked loudly to herself at times during the service and mumbled in a manner that some in attendance found shocking," the AP reported, adding "it is common knowledge that Lee had a stroke some years ago and is now deaf and blind."

On Thursday, Ms Carter dismissed speculation about her client's mental health and quoted Lee as saying she is "alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions (to) Watchman. HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham said he is "completely confident" that Lee was fully involved in the decision to release the book but acknowledged that he has had no direct contact with her. The novel, which will not undergo any editing before it is released on July 14, is already No 1 on Amazon.

Hollywood stars hijack Broadway

It's standing room only (at $37 a pop or a hefty $425 for a black market seat) if you want to see Larry David's Broadway debut in The Big Fish. The comedy, which also features Rita Wilson and Rosie Perez, opened in previews only on Monday but already the play (think: Curb Your Seinfeld,) has smashed the box-office record of $13.05m set by Daniel Craig and Rachel Weitz in Betrayal.

Also set to create mob scenes on the Great White Way are Helen Mirren, who will open in The Audience on March 8, and fellow London-transfers Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan who will headline David Hare's Skylight, starting March 13. Generating even more heat is the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall which opens on April 9. The two-part, six-hour marathon - with a two-an-a-half hour dinner break - is expected to be the first production that successfully introduces the cult of binge-viewing to Broadway.

 

Author hit by fashion flock

Author Dana Thomas may be a well respected fashion writer but she certainly doesn't believe in dressing up the truth. In her latest expose, Gods and Kings: the Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano - which explores how the immense talent and eccentric personalities of these unlikely Brit designers changed the culture of luxury fashion - Thomas is being criticised by the fashion flock for her tabloid tone, particularly when it comes to challenging the lore that neatly shrouds McQueen's suicide as an emotional reaction to his mother's death from cancer a few days before he took his own life on February 11, 2010.

Instead, Thomas reports that in the last year of his life the 41-year-old HIV-positive McQueen - who she claims was suffering from acute paranoia due to a $1,000-a-day cocaine habit - twice overdosed on pills in what his therapist described as "cries for help".

When he did eventually take his own life, she says, the spin put on the story was pure fantasy. "One of McQueen's close friends told me he could never go through with it while his mother was alive because he knew it would destroy her," Thomas writes. "But once she was gone, it was like he had been finally given permission. And he took it."

Harsh.

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