In Review

Harper Lee novel: will Go Set a Watchman live up to the hype?

Anticipation grows as Lee releases chapter of novel half a century after To Kill a Mockingbird

More than 50 years after her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird became an international best-seller, Harper Lee is set to release a follow-up book, Go Set a Watchman.

Ahead of its publication next week, the first chapter of the book has been published in newspapers and online today.

Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman in 1957. It tells elements of the story of To Kill a Mockingbird, but from the perspective of a grown-up Scout (now called Jean Louise Finch). At the time, it was rejected by a publisher who encouraged Lee to retell the story from the child's perspective instead.

The original novel was set aside and has taken over half a century to see the light of day.

The discovery of the 'lost' manuscript was announced in February and was hailed as the literary sensation of the decade.

Go Set a Watchman has undergone very little editing since it was originally written, says the Wall Street Journal, which is publishing the first chapter of the novel today, along with The Guardian.

“It was made clear to us that Harper Lee wanted it published as it was," said publisher Jonathan Burnham. “We gave the book a very light copy edit."

The first chapter introduces Lee's beloved character, Scout, as a sexually liberated woman in her twenties, travelling from New York to Alabama to visit her ailing father, and a bombshell about Jem. (Spoilers to follow).

Go Set a Watchman is already top of the print pre-sale charts on Amazon. Its publisher, HarperCollins, has confirmed that it is their best-selling preorder title ever.

On 14 July, bookshops around the globe will be holding special events to welcome its publication, reports the BBC. In New York, the actress Mary Badham, who played Scout in the classic 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird, will read from both novels at Manhattan's 92Y cultural centre.

Go Set a Watchman will be published in the UK by William Heinemann, the original UK publisher of To Kill a Mockingbird, and across the country bookshop chains and small independents will open their doors outside normal trading hours to cope with demand.

Critics and fans are already discussing the first chapter and speculating on whether the novel will live up to the hype.

“While the novel shares literary DNA with Ms Lee's famous debut - the same wry humor, biting banter and finely drawn characters flicker throughout - this is clearly a different story," writes Alexandra Alter in the New York Times.

The preview will fuel anticipation for the novel but will "almost certainly face heavy scrutiny as fans and scholars compare it with her acclaimed masterpiece", says Alter, who notes that it is "already destined to be a major commercial success".

Fans have praised the novel online, while mourning the death of Scout's brother Jem, who Lee reveals in the first chapter has died.

"Harper Lee already has me sobbing," one fan TweetedAnother found plenty to be surprised about. "Jem dead, Atticus crippled, Jean Louise sleeps without her pants. And that's just chapter one!"

And after half a century of silence, it appears Go Set a Watchman may not be the last book from Lee, who is now 89. The Daily Telegraph reports that there is also an unfinished true crime novel she began writing 30 years ago waiting in the wings, as well as correspondence and other papers. No decision has been made yet about whether they will be published.

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