Quite a few novelists–Joseph Heller, J. D. Salinger, Ralph Ellison–have written one great novel, but then wrote nothing else, or nothing else in its league. One of those writers is Harper Lee, whose To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, makes the bestseller lists to this day. So readers have been excited to hear that she is coming out with another novel, Go Set a Watchman, which won’t even be released until July 14 but is already an Amazon bestseller.
But this is not exactly a new novel. Apparently, it’s the first draft of what would later become Mockingbird. It’s the story of an adult woman, who goes by the nickname of “Scout,” who goes to visit her aged father Atticus, whereupon the story is told, in third person, as a reminiscence. When she showed it to a publisher, the editor recommended that she re-write the book from the point of view of Scout as a child. That was brilliant advice, since one of the things that makes Mockingbird such great fiction is the narrative voice and the perspective of young Scout, who tells a warm and often humorous tale of growing up in the deep south, which suddenly turns serious as her father, an attorney, bravely defends a black man in a rape trial.
So if Watchman tells the same story, but without Scout’s point of view, it’s hard to see the point. Plus, controversy has broken out over whether Ms. Lee, in poor health in a nursing home, really wanted this manuscript published. But still, the book will surely be worth reading. If nothing else, early drafts are often a clue to the author’s original intentions. [Read more...]