February 3, 2015

Is Harper Lee finally publishing a second novel?

You might be seeing headlines that give the impression that the 88-year-old author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" has another novel at long last, but...
The recently discovered book, “Go Set a Watchman,” was completed in the mid-1950s.... It takes place 20 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird.”... The 304-page novel takes place in the same fictional town, Maycomb, Ala., and unfolds as Scout Finch, the feisty child heroine of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” returns to visit her father, Atticus.

Ms. Lee said in a statement released by her publisher that her editor at the time was taken with Scout’s childhood flashbacks, and told her to write a different novel from Scout’s perspective. “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told,” Ms. Lee, 88, a native of Monroeville, Ala., said in the statement.
It seems that the 2 books are drafts of the same book! The editor advised Lee on how to write a leaner, more exciting book, and she did it. Now, we're to be given the opportunity to read the longer version within which the "To Kill a Mockingbird" story is told in flashbacks. It's interesting to get the original version of the very widely read and loved book, but why portray it as Lee's "second novel"?

ADDED: Megan Garber writes in The Atlantic "Harper Lee: The Sadness of a Sequel":
... Harper Lee... spent the majority of her life not wanting Go Set a Watchman to be published... At one point, Lee's sister (and companion and caretaker and sometime legal adviser), known publicly as Miss Alice, claimed that a burglar had stolen the manuscript of Mockingbird’s spectral sequel...

Perhaps it really was as simple as a manuscript lost and recovered, serendipitously for all involved. Perhaps all those doubts Lee had previously expressed about the publication of a second novel were merely the expressions of the natural, but not invincible, anxiety that comes with that infamously fraught project....

Or perhaps, having witnessed the rise of what Boris Kachka calls the “Mockingbird industrial complex” from afar, the writer wanted to bring a renewed kind of intimacy to her work.... Or perhaps Lee, alive but ill, is being treated in the way so many deceased authors are: as ideas rather than people, as brands and businesses rather than messy collections of doubts and desires.

21 comments:

madAsHell said...

but why portray it as Lee's "second novel"?

....because it will sell more copies??

TennLion said...

I thought Truman Capote wrote her book for her.

Known Unknown said...

It's a reboot.

Go figure.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

It's interesting to get the original version of the very widely read and loved book...

That would be interesting. I hope they don't do significant re-edits before publishing. It would lose a lot of interest for me if it was rewritten to adjust for changing public opinions, the reactions to the first book, etc.

rhhardin said...

The 1969 Get Smart Tequila Mockingbird seems to be online only in dubbed Spanish.

FullMoon said...

The black guy is guilty after all?

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I thought her second novel was In Cold Blood.

Robert Cook said...

It could be a very different book.

Philip K. Dick, whose writings have been the basis for the movies BLADE RUNNER, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, MINORITY REPORT, and others, wrote a book in the late 70s that was both a science fiction novel and semi-autobiographical; he felt he wasn't achieving what he wanted, so his agent gave him some advice that spurred him to set it aside and write a new novel using the same material and themes. The result was VALIS, the next-to-penultimate novel he would write and publish before his death at age 53.

Some years later, the first version of the story was published posthumously as RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH.

It tells an entirely different story, from a different perspective, while using much of the same material.

I think the first, unpublished posthumous novel is the better one. It's also fascinating to see how a writer can write wholly different books based on the same idea(s).

Perhaps Lee's abandoned book will also be very different and possibly good, or even equal to MOCKINGBIRD.

Larry J said...

She wrote this book first only it wasn't published. It was written and set in the 1950s. She then wrote To Kill a Mockingbird with the same characters but set in the 1930s. They are different but related books.

I've seen it happen that an author has a successful book and the publisher asks if he has anything else ready to go. He'll then pull up another book that was written before but not published. One techno-thriller author that I read (whose name escapes me at the moment) admitted it in one of his books. I'm convinced that Tom Clancey didn't write "The Hunt for Red October" first. His book "Patriot Games" reads more like a first novel.

YoungHegelian said...

If this has been sitting in a drawer since the 50's, there's probably a good reason, i.e. it isn't very good.

Back then, editors actually edited, & her editor could see there was a good story hiding under the verbiage. He told her, as sweetly as possible, being critical in a helpful way, to clean up the story.

Well, he was right, as her novel was a smashing success that made Ms Lee a lot of money.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

I have no problem with that characterization. It is to be her second published novel. I expect many books are written on, shelved, other books written and published, first book returned to awhile, more things happen etc....

It is the second novel as far as we are concerned.

Sydney said...

If it is the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird then I would definitely read it. I enjoy seeing the evolution of a novel or other creative work. But, if it was written afterwards as a sequel, then I'm less likely to buy it. Ditto if it was the first draft but the current editors cut out all the parts that eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird.

Unknown said...

Money

David said...

I heard an account that said that it was written before Mockingbird

Does not bode well. She is near posthumous territory and should hold off for that.

Roadkill said...

So, in this sequel, is Scout's father still a rape denier?

George M. Spencer said...

Sounds like Melville writing a sequel to Moby Dick that's about a shop clerk selling canned whale.

William said...

Attitudes have changed a lot since the book was first published. I wonder if this generation of readers will find the book's treatment of blacks condescending. You can't step in the same river twice, as Ole Jim told Huck......Anyway, the movie version will probably be better. I'll wait for the movie.

Ann Althouse said...

"She wrote this book first only it wasn't published. It was written and set in the 1950s. She then wrote To Kill a Mockingbird with the same characters but set in the 1930s. They are different but related books."

It sounds like the same book to me. The 1950s story is a frame around a flashback to the 1930s story. The editor told her to cut out the contemporary stuff and get right to the real story and to tell it from the perspective of the child. We'll get to see how good the editor's advice was. Maybe in the first-draft version, Atticus tells the story to his daughter, and it's much less exciting. The device of seeing through the eyes of the child is very important in TKAM.

Ann Althouse said...

The fact that Lee kept the first draft suppressed all these years suggests that she knows it is inferior. Now, when she's very old, it's coming out. Is that right? The answer will be better understood when we get the actual text.

Robert Cook said...

"The fact that Lee kept the first draft suppressed all these years suggests that she knows it is inferior."

Perhaps. Or it suggests she may be telling the truth when she says she didn't know the manuscript had survived.

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

101 Uses For a Dead Mockingbird