Monday 19 March 2018

Book Worm: ‘Mockingbird’ and Austen’s Latino sequel

Huge orders: Harper Lee’s second novel is out in July
Huge orders: Harper Lee’s second novel is out in July

John Boland

Everybody's talking about Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's first published work of fiction in 55 years, as if it's a new novel, whereas in fact it pre-dates To Kill a Mockingbird and was an early draft of that much-loved book.

I learn this from American academic Sarah Churchwell, whose 2013 book, Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby, is an engrossing insight into the creation of F Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece.

Writing last week in The Guardian, Churchwell said that Harper Lee had "not suddenly caved in to our desires and produced a sequel to Mockingbird at the age of 88". Indeed, she said, scholars had already known of this earlier version, which was written from the perspective of an adult Scout in the 1950s recalling her Alabama childhood of the 1930s. But the author was advised by an editor to dispense with such flashbacks and to have the story told directly by Scout as a child in the 1930s.

Yet, even if Go Set a Watchman is an alternative version of a classic rather than a new novel, interest has immediately proved huge, with massive pre-ordering of the book ahead of its July publication. And sales of To Kill a Mockingbird are soaring yet again.

Yet, though that famous novel topped a list last year of the most influential books written by women (beating Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice and the Harry Potter series), it's not as widely admired by literary critics as it is by fans - Churchwell declaring that she "enraged" a Cheltenham literary festival audience by suggesting it was "just the teensiest bit overrated". As for myself, I'm fonder of the 1962 movie, with Gregory Peck at his grandest as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham a lovably tomboyish Scout.

But what other literary discoveries are in store for us? Writing in the New Yorker, Paul Laudiero suggests such follow-up titles as The Greater Gatsby, The Old Man and the Motorboat, Lord of the Flies: Piggy's Revenge and a Latino sequel to Jane Austen's most famous novel called 2 Proud 2 Prejudiced. And while we're at it, how about A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Git, with the aged Stephen recently co-opted into Aosdana?

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