Friday 28 October 2016

After 55 years readers get their hands on the Mockingbird sequel


In the southern American hometown of author Harper Lee, a truck today unloaded 7,000 copies of the writer's sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird - her first novel in 55 years.

A friend recently told Lee that Go Set a Watchman was the most pre-ordered book on Amazon.com.

"You lie," she said, according to her long-time friend Professor Wayne Flynt of Auburn University, who plans to celebrate with the town of Monroeville in southwest Alabama.


The elusive Lee herself - Miss Nelle to her friends and now 89 - might make a rare appearance in the town she made famous, said Flynt.

"But don't count on it too much," he added.

"She changes her mind a lot and doesn't much like attention. She lives moment to moment."

But the small town Lee modelled Depression-era Maycomb on in Mockingbird is focused on this moment.

Shortly after 12am today, outside Ol' Curiosities and Book Shoppe in downtown Monroeville, shopkeeper Spencer Madrie signalled to a crowd mingling with Gregory Peck look-alikes waiting for the sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mockingbird.

"I've had people calling from as far away as England looking for the book early," said Madrie, who will emboss copies of the book so people will know it was bought in Lee's hometown. People cheered when the shop's doors finally opened.

Among those waiting was Robert Champion, who said he wanted to take each novel on its own merit.

"I don't compare the two," he said. "It's not the same book. Nothing will take away from To Kill a Mockingbird."

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley proclaimed the day as Go Set a Watchman day in the state. On Twitter he said that the release of the new book was "an exciting time for our state, and Harper Lee is a great source of pride".

Mockingbird has sold more than 40 million copies world-wide.

Watchman is set in the 1950s, not the 1930s Depression era of Mockingbird, but it was written first and never published.

Lee has said her editor at the time convinced her to turn the book into a coming-of-age story from Scout Finch's perspective as a child. She agreed and the result was Mockingbird while the manuscript for Watchman was set aside and apparently forgotten.

The new book sees tomboy Scout as grown-up Jean Louise Finch. Her now aged father - gentle, idealist lawyer Atticus Finch - is depicted as a racist and a bigot in a turn of character that has dismayed readers who have regarded him for decades as a paragon for doing right against all the odds.


Despite the changes in Finch's character, all day today the real Maycomb plans to celebrate.

There will be public readings at almost every corner and, lawn parties with lemonade and mint juleps, and 'Finch' fries and 'Boo' burgers on offer at a local cafe.

There will be walking tours of the domed 1900-era courthouse, now a museum, that served as the model for Finch's defence of a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

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