Tuesday 20 February 2018

Bookshops to stay open all night as devoted Harper Lee fans scramble for 'To Kill A Mockingbird' sequel

Author Nelle Harper Lee
Author Nelle Harper Lee

Robert Dex

Bookshops around the country are staying open all night to allow devoted Harper Lee fans the chance to get their hands on her much-anticipated follow-up to To Kill A Mockingbird.

The new novel, Go Set A Watchman, is out tomorrow and is already a guaranteed best-seller as the follow-up to Lee's 1960 book about a rape trial in the racially-divided deep south of the US.

Waterstones' flagship store in London's Piccadilly is hosting a series of talks about the classic novel and screening the 1962 film version before opening its tills at a minute past midnight so fans can buy the follow-up as soon as possible.

Its shops in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham will also open so fans can buy a copy at the same time.

HARPER LEE: The author’s original book ‘Go Set a Watchman’ which is due to be published soon, was thought to be an early draft of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird
HARPER LEE: The author’s original book ‘Go Set a Watchman’ which is due to be published soon, was thought to be an early draft of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird

Other book shops are also getting in on the act and opening early tomorrow morning to take advantage of the publicity around the new book.

One of them - Forum Books in Corbridge, Northumberland - has employed a speed reader who will try to read the book in half-an-hour and offer an instant review.

The original story and its central characters, Scout, her brother Jem and their lawyer father Atticus, are known and loved by millions of readers around the world, but many have been left "baffled and distressed" at the revelation the new book paints Atticus as a racist "bigot" who went to a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

Read more: Go Set a Watchman - new claims cast doubt over how and when To Kill a Mockingbird sequel was discovered

Go Set A Watchman revolves around the now-adult Scout's return to her native Alabama from New York to visit her father.

A New York Times review revealed the plot twist, telling readers: "We remember Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's 1960 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, as that novel's moral conscience: kind, wise, honourable, an avatar of integrity who used his gifts as a lawyer to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town filled with prejudice and hatred in the 1930s."

It adds: "Shockingly, in Ms. Lee's long-awaited novel, Go Set a Watchman (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like 'The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.' Or asks his daughter: 'Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theatres? Do you want them in our world?'"

News of the new book's publication stunned the literary world earlier this year and concerns were raised about the extent of Lee's involvement in the project.

Her agent was forced to respond to reports suggesting the 88-year-old was being taken advantage of over the publication of the book.

Authorities in her native Alabama closed their investigation into the issue saying the reclusive writer had ''made it quite clear'' she wanted the book published.

Read more: Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird to publish sequel - after 55 years

Ashleigh O'Connell was first in line to get a copy at Waterstones' Piccadilly store, having arrived at 6pm to get her spot.

Ms O'Connell was "sceptical" when she first heard about the prequel.

She said: "To Kill a Mockingbird is so perfect I know it is not going to be the same so I am trying to see it as separate."

She added that she was not concerned by the apparent portrayal of Atticus as racist in the latest instalment, saying: "He is still Atticus Finch. He is still a literary hero."

Sandy Phillips, a project manager, is also eagerly anticipating the book's release at midnight, but is "worried" by indications that the book's lead character favours segregation.

She compared reading the first chapter to "finding out that Father Christmas beats his reindeer".

Ms Phillips added: "I do not think it will have the same resonance but that's not to say that I won't enjoy reading it."

Lawyer Ian Johnstone, attending the launch, was less surprised by Harper Lee's portrayal of Atticus in the latest book.

Describing the court case in the first novel, Mr Johnstone said: "He's a lawyer doing his job. He is paid to defend that man."

Press Association

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