Monday 16 January 2017

'Mockingbird' still sings but it's boo to clunky, dated 'Watchman'

Harper Lee's sequel is a literary sensation, says Emily Hourican, but the novel is not a total success

Emily Hourican

Published 19/07/2015 | 02:30

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson in a scene from the 1962 film of Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson in a scene from the 1962 film of Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

It's not often we get a genuine literary sensation. We do not live in an age where avid readers throng the docks of Boston and New York, waiting for the latest Dickens instalment. Even a new Donna Tartt is only so-so sensational. And so the news that Harper Lee - author of To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most popular novels of all time, a book that has sold some 40 million copies and is a foundation stone for the moral compass of many of those readers - was ready to publish another book, only her second, after 55 years, caused a wave of excitement. That this second book carried the same characters as Mockingbird, is the product of a manuscript written before that book, then lost for decades before a sensational rediscovery, only added fuel to a merry fire.

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And then the controversy started. Nelle Harper Lee, who hasn't given an interview since 1964, choosing to live as a literary recluse (this is not the same as an actual recluse; she was perfectly out-and-about in her home town of Monroeville, Alabama) had never intended this book to be published, was one story. Now aged 89, partially blind and deaf after a stroke, she wasn't even fully aware of, or complicit in, the publishing, was another.

Then her sister, Alice (once described by Nelle as "Atticus in a skirt"), who was Harper's lawyer and staunch protector, practising until past her 100th birthday, died in November, just before the manuscript discovery. The timing seemed far too convenient.

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