Like today’s post could possibly be about anything else.
Harper Lee is set to publish a new novel, Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to her masterwork To Kill a Mockingbird, although – apparently – she wrote this new book first. I greeted this news with inaudible glee yesterday (there are several dogs in the vicinity who will never quite get their hearing back, such was the magnitude of my squeeing), but then a friend led me to this article, which makes it clear that the news may not be as unequivocally good as we’d thought.
I hope it’s not true to say that Ms Lee is being manipulated, due to her age or any perceived infirmity; I hope it’s not true that she may not wish this book to be published. I hope, sincerely, that it emerges over the next few days and weeks that the publication of Go Set a Watchman is entirely of her own will and that it is something to which she gives her blessing.
If it turns out not to be the case, then I will have some serious thinking to do. As much as I want to read this new book, my conscience won’t let me if I even suspect that its journey to publication has been anything less than above board. Perhaps time will tell.
I can’t overstate how much I love To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a searing judgement on the society of its own time – and, almost incredibly, it’s an even more searing judgement on the society we live in today. The story of Tom Robinson has been told and retold far too many times, in America and across the world, and with every passing year Ms Lee’s book grows more relevant than ever. As well as that it’s a piece of storytelling beyond compare, with a cast of characters as real to me as friends, and a setting which I have lived in and walked through, time and again. I’ve always been fascinated by Ms Lee, who seemed content to live a quiet life, happy in the knowledge that she had written the One Book, the story only she could have written at only that particular juncture of history, and the story which changed the world. In some ways, it’s sad to think that Mockingbird isn’t her only book (as exciting as it is to think about a new story featuring Scout and Atticus, and perhaps some of the other characters we’ve all grown to love like family) and in another it’s wonderful to imagine how much more she has to say about the issues at the heart of Maycomb, Alabama, and the world.
And even if none of it is true, or the story turns out to be a fabrication, or a mistake, or it all falls apart tomorrow, I will always keep a little store of glee in my heart for the fact that an elderly lady, who hasn’t published a book in fifty-five years, could bring the internet to a crashing halt yesterday simply by announcing that she was about to release another story. A book did that. A writer. Who says the pen isn’t mightier than the sword?
And, you know what? There’s never been a better time to revisit To Kill a Mockingbird. It seems strange, but of course there are people too young to have heard of it, or who have simply never read it, and I hope this announcement will introduce more people to the world of Jean Louise Finch (commonly known as Scout) and her clear-eyed view of the world and its injustices.
Maybe, soon, we’ll start listening.