What next for Harper Lee?
So you write a book that gets worldwide acclaim and which regularly features in many people’s all time top five books of all time. How do you beat that? In Harper Lee’s case, you don’t. You disappear back into the seam of life and let the book take on its own life. You watch as its allure grows into a thing of great beauty, this despite many of the themes of the book are of the most unpleasant kind. Such is the books great trick.
The life of Lee during all these years is characterised by a desire to live in a quiet refrain, and yet controversy follows. First, just like Sons & Lovers, those on the moral high ground seek to denounce and ban the book. As ever, such action adds to the books attraction and these early attempts of removing the book from the public arena result in a readership desperate to embrace her. Countless awards follow, many of the highest order, despite the fact that she has published but one book! It’s footprint will always be much larger than its page numbers.
Others seek to make profit from Harper Lee’s work and the legal bods rides into action to protect her rights. Many are accused of seeking to rob her royalties and the unpleasantries grow as do her years.
55 years go by and here, in her late life, her new book ‘Go set a Watchman’ is found and published to mixed reviews. Her close family suggest the book’s release would not have been approved by Harper Lee had she been of sound mind, and yet she does appear to have agreed to its publication despite it having lain hidden in a safe for 60 odd years. It’s an odd turn for Lee and I agree a suspect one. It doesn’t match her hidden years and yet I for one crave its publication and then pour over each page, drawing in each syllable of delicious Lee drawl.
There is a suggestion that yet a further novel was written by Harper Lee but that she could not wrestle herself to be comfortable with it. I suspect if she did not destroy it that this too may find its way on to our shelves in due course.
It’s odd that one book has cast such a huge print across so many lives. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ manages to face the grim reality of life with great humour, love and dignity. In this dance it causes our hearts to melt at the books key characters and to find something of ourselves, either real or aspired, in them. It is a book of great heart and real genius. I can see why the follow up book should not have been published. ‘Go set a Watchman’ has none of the Mockingbird’s purity and in that betrayal alone something of our very own hopes are washed away. If ‘To Kill a Mockbird’ is the great night out, ‘Go set a Watchman’ is the reality of the morning after. Goodness knows how we will sum up the release of any more old works of Harper Lee!