Thursday 12 February 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird: the unexpected sequel

Harper Lee, as I'm sure you've all heard by now, is leaving the ranks of Emily Bronte, Margaret Mitchell, and Anna Sewell, and will have two novels published during her lifetime. I'm sure the blogs have been ablaze with it; I've not spotted much chat, but I've been rather absent from the blogosphere for the past fortnight.

In case you didn't know, here's the low-down:
  • It'll be called Go Set a Watchman, showing that Harper ain't lost her knack for titles that are seemingly gibberish but actually (probably) very meaningful.
  • It was written before To Kill a Mockingbird
  • It's about an adult Scout - the editor Harper Lee sent it to told her to write about Scout as a child instead. That turned out ok.
  • Supposedly it was found in a box, or something.
Lovely SIAB-reader Merenia got in touch to suggest I blog about this, and included a fascinating excerpt from an article in the Guardian:
However, Dr Ian Patterson at Cambridge University was underwhelmed by the news. “I can’t but imagine it must be of historical interest rather than anything else, at this point,” he said. “It will doubtless be eagerly read by fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, but that’s a soggy sentimental liberal novel if ever there was one. I’m always dubious of attempts to close the gap between fiction and reality, as in wanting to know what happens to characters outside a novel’s confines – Tom Jones with Alzheimer’s, Mr Darcy’s daughters or, as here, Scout grown up. I expect it will garner lots of short-term interest on those grounds, and on the grounds of being another novel by a one-novel writer.
Now, I have no idea who Dr Ian Patterson is, but according to his website one of his publications is a critical guide to Wyndham Lewis. Having tried and monumentally failed to read Tarr, I can sense that we are not likely to enjoy the same books. But Dr Simon Thomas says that To Kill a Mockingbird is far from soggy or sentimental. It is liberal, I suppose, in that it's anti-racism, but I suspect (and hope) that's not quite the gripe he has. Mostly, it is a beautiful portrait of a good man and excellent father - which does sound rather soggy, I suppose. But you've all read it; you know it's not.

Having said that, I do have some qualms about this book being published. Harper Lee has always been adamant that she doesn't want anything else to be published. I worry that her fragile mental and physical health may have led to her being pushed into something...

But will I read it? Of course.


  1. Go Dr. Thomas! Let's stick up for those liberal good fathers! I shall be *very* intrigued to see what the book is like and it's daft to be snarky and judgemental in advance!


    1. :D I think he probably just wanted to make headlines...

  2. Isn't "Go, set a watchman..." from Isaiah? I'm with you - of course I'll read it. :)

  3. And, you can't really call it a sequel, since she wrote it first, and clearly wanted it published, since she sent it in. I'll look forward to reading it.

  4. I'm also suspicious of this, especially coming so soon after her sister's death...

  5. Ha, I happen to know Ian Patterson (ain't that the way of the blogworld?) and he's actually a very nice man. I don't doubt he made the comment, or something like it, but he isn't as harsh in reality as he sounds there. I don't know that I think of him as a Harper Lee specialist, though, so quite why he got asked is a mystery. All this news makes me think is that I really MUST read To Kill A Mockingbird one of these days!

  6. I agree with Dr. Patterson on one point...I suspect that Go Set a Watchman will probably be of mostly historical interest. I want to read it for reasons that I would call "scholarly"....I want to know something about the process of creation that eventually gave us To Kill a Mockingbird. (SOGGY???? SENTIMENTAL????) I don't expect it to be up to that standard (I understand there was virtually no editing done), but she envisioned Scout as an adult from the beginning, and that's of interest. I'd be less interested if it were an actual sequel she'd gone ahead with at some point in the last 50 years. None of us will ever know the truth about the circumstances, but it's my feeling that much of what has happened in Harper Lee's life since publishing TKaM has not been what she would have wished for.

  7. I'll read it because I couldn't not. Therefore I must!

  8. Hi Simon, it's Merenia, blushing at my moment of fame. Thanks for your lovely email too.

    I'm so happy, Susan in Tx, to understand the title.

    Litlove, you know Dr P! I was so intrigued by that Guardian story. There were lots of comments below the line in a similar vein to Dr Pattinson. Never occurred to me that there was a body of criticism around TKaM.

    Sorry Simon, I'm hijacking your comments.

  9. I've yet to read TKAMB and know very little about Harper Lee - just what I've read over the last few weeks but I think much of the cynicism about this one is unfair. Had it turned up after her death it would inevitably have been published and probably with much less outrage. As far as I can gather this first version was basically rejected then the second became a classic. Who knows what this did to her confidence in herself as a writer, and isn't it possible that at this point in her life she'd like that first book to have another chance. If nothing else it will be interesting to compare the two. If it has the added bonus of making a truck load of money to ensure a comfortable old age for Lee and cash for the publishers to promote new talent then is that really a bad thing?


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