So the news has been out for a couple of weeks now: Harper Lee is releasing a new novel (gasp!). After 55 years, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird is finally bringing another work into the world, a novel called Go Set a Watchman. This new story is set 20 years after her first novel and centres around Scout’s return to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. From what I’ve gathered from the many articles I have read (they will all be linked below), in this new book, Harper Lee deals with Scout’s vision of her father’s ideals and with her personal issues as an adult in the 1950s. I say that Go Set a Watchman is a “new book” but this novel is not actually new. In fact, it was supposedly written before To Kill a Mockingbird, and the two novels were apparently meant to be part of a trilogy. Although we do not yet know much about the plot, we can expect that this novel is going to deal with deep issues circling around family dynamics and racism.
Many questions have emerged from this extremely-delayed release: Why now? Where is the third book? Is it going to be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird?
The first question has started a large controversy. Why hasn’t Lee already published this book if it has been written for more than fifty years? Is she being exploited by publishers and other influences? Many people have argued that her physical and mental health did not allow her to make a rational decision about this release. However, many sources have denied this, including Lee’s current lawyer. In my position, I can only read from both sides of the issue and be aware of the complexity of the situation. If I am being honest, I’m really happy about this new book. However, I wouldn’t want to read something that the author didn’t want me to. If the writer is not satisfied with his or her work, then there’s a very good chance I won’t be either. I have encountered this issue before while I was reading Gogol’s Dead Souls. He had written a second part to this work but later burnt it because he was not happy with the result. However, untouched parts of the manuscript have been found and published in different editions of the novel. My Russian literature professor did not want us to read these excerpts because she said that it would not be fair to the author and I have to agree with her. Even though it’s interesting to see an artist’s thought-process and progress, if the end-result is not there, the point is lost. I like to look at Flaubert’s collections of notes and letters during his period of writing because it really describes his struggles but we also get to see how he overcomes them when we come in contact with the finished product. I’m drifting away from the topic but all I want to say is that to respect an artist’s right to his own work is crucial. As a reader, you should not feel entitled to someone else’s art. This raises the question of the importance of the work for the artist vs. the impact it will have on society. If a book could be beneficial to the world, should it be published even though the author is not 100% OK with it? Here is an ethical debate that I’m curious to see what people have to say about. I do think that it is important for this book to be published because of the subject it addresses, showing that racism is an ongoing issue and not solely a thing of the past. In our current context, this is evident and to provide people with a different perspective on the matter could only be a positive addition to the literary corpus.
The second question remains unanswered. Is the idea that these books were supposed to be part of a trilogy even true? Harper Lee has always been very secretive about her plans. She once said; “It’s better to be silent than a fool” and it’s a motto that she has stuck to all her life until now. Some people say that she was overwhelmed by the success of To Kill a Mockingbird and decided to remain far away from the media. She never really shed a clear light on her plans, saying that she was not intending on publishing any new works. However, everybody is allowed to change their minds if the decision truly comes from them. We have waited 55 years for this novel and if it’s the last of Lee’s works to hit the shelves (as it most likely will be) then, we’ll have to do with what we have and rejoice in the fact that we are going to be able to dive into Scout’s life again. Scout is a character that I loved as a child, and I identified with her a lot, especially her deep curiosity. Now that I am an adult and she is portrayed as one too, I am eager to see how she has evolved compared to me.
Finally, to the third question I’ll say “We’ll see.” I don’t like to go into books with a lot of expectations but I somehow always do. There is so much information coming in about this book, much of which is not necessarily verified. For instance, a few days ago, a cover for the book (picture on the left) was released on Twitter. I was really disappointed by the planeness of the design but it turns out that apparently it is only the image used by Amazon for people to place their pre-orders and not the actual cover (although they could just have said that after seeing the negative reactions of people). Therefore, after seeing all the controversy surrounding this new release, I’ve decided to wait until I actually hold the book in my hand and can base my opinions on something more tangible.
Go Set a Watchman will be released in July 2015 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins. Until then, I’m planning on re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird to get myself even more excited (adding that to my 2015 Reading Plans).
Ps: If you haven’t yet, check out my last post “My Favourite University Reads Part 2” for recommendations.
Some interesting articles: