Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Go Set A Watchman: Harper Lee Opens An Old Trunk

So there's to be a new novel by Harper Lee, the reclusive author who wrote one book and never gave us another.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was an enormous success, and the reading public waited for Ms. Lee to write more. As it turned out, she was far from prolific. One and done could be used to describe her literary output.

She did not put down her pen, however. Somewhere in the detritus collected over a lifetime there was a manuscript that was written in the 1950s, a manuscript put away in a trunk and forgotten. It was not the sequel to her first novel, but the first effort at writing a story that ended up getting altered by a publisher's suggestion to take a slightly different approach in the story.

GO SET A WATCHMAN is, as it turns out, a sequel to the first. The same characters are there, but older, and moved on with their lives.

Somewhere in the detritus of a lifetime's accumulations, Ms. Lee's attorney found the old manuscript that the author did not know still existed. The acclaimed writer is nearing the end of her life, and that may have given her the incentive to share the story with friends to see if it was worth publishing.

Was it fear of the second novel failing that kept Ms. Lee from pushing her publisher to take another look at the first manuscript, or did she believe that she had told her story, although in a slightly altered form, and the original would have been the same story repeated in a slightly different way?

She is allowing this book to be published before she dies, which means she can edit it to her satisfaction instead of letting someone else try to shape the words in a way that would not be exactly true to Ms. Lee's vision.

Do you have a manuscript stored away in a closet, or collecting dust under a bed?

Maybe it's worth taking another look at the thing....in about sixty years or so.

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