Harper Lee new novel deemed ‘clunky,’ ‘distressing’ as sales begin

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Book fans grab Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ on first day it’s on sale.

Fans flocked to bookstores to snatch up their copies of Harper Lee’s highly anticipated new novel “Go Set a Watchman” as the hardback went on sale early Tuesday.

FOR more than half a century “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been revered as a literary classic, the story of Scout and Jem Finch, a young sister and brother (and their naughty friend, Boo Radley, based on Truman Capote) who are all trying to make sense of the bewildering, bigoted American South in the 1930s.While readers and booksellers from Yokohama to London and New York welcomed the novel, some people said they had canceled their preorders because of the revelation that Atticus Finch, the beloved character from Ms. Mekdad Muthana, 25, was the first to grab the tome at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, arriving at 6:30 a.m. for the store’s early 7 a.m. opening.

The novel sold 40m copies, won a Pulitzer prize and was made into a much-loved film, starring Gregory Peck as the siblings’ father, Atticus Finch, a heroic white lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. The novel is set 20 years after the events of To Kill A Mockingbird, introducing a sexually liberated Scout taking a train home from New York to Alabama at the age of 26 in the first chapter. But, an early review of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchmen — written before Mockingbird but set decades later — revealed Finch to be a “bigot.” How are readers to reconcile the new light cast on Atticus with the noble proclamations he made in Lee’s earlier book? The new novel follows Scout Finch’s return home to the fictional town of Maycomb in the 1950s. “As you grow up, your views change and life changes you,” she said. “So, it’ll be very interesting to see this version compared to how the original story was. And how can the same man who stood in front of a narrow-minded jury to announce, “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system — that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality,” be found meddling in Klan-related activity?

The wild difference between Mockingbird Atticus and Watchman Atticus has fans of the former novel understandably riled (the change is especially upsetting for those who’ve gone so far as to name their children after the lawyer). Before the February announcement of the discovery and release of “Watchman,” Lee had long said she would never publish another novel despite pressure from her publisher. More than 400 people turned up dressed in their Sunday best, queueing for hours at the steps of the Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe just off the main town square (despite its name a laudable independent book shop).

It was thought the 88-year-old novelist may have been pressured into publishing the novel after it emerged her late sister Alice had written in 2011 that Lee “can’t hear and will sign anything you put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” Jonathan Sturgeon at Flavorwire notes that Atticus wasn’t quite as forward-thinking as we’d like to remember; he was socially conservative, if progressive relative to other Maycomb residents, and was assigned to the Tom Robinson case by a judge. The New York Times writes that the discrepancies could be due to the extensive editing Mockingbird underwent (Watchman, on the other hand, was edited only lightly). It is remarkable for a woman who came to fame in the relatively erudite business of literary fiction, and who has hardly uttered a public word for 50 years, that Lee should arouse such devotion. Instead of a child, Scout is a 26-year-old woman who works in New York and has gone home on holiday, much as Ms Lee herself might have done at the time.

They were invited, as they waited for their copies, to write personal letters to Lee which the book shop promised to deliver in person. “I hope you reply to this letter,” one correspondent wrote, “I would cherish it forever.” “Dear Harper, thank you so much for being a part of us, it means so much,” wrote Judy May. “PS. Tay Hohoff, her legendary editor, read the draft in 1957 and wisely advised the fledgling author to rewrite the book, fleshing out the scenes of Scout’s childhood. I am a good Methodist just like you, and a preacher’s wife.” And then the first person emerged from the back of the store, flush faced, bearing her gold-dust copy.

HarperCollins, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp. “Watchman” is the most pre-ordered book on Amazon.com since “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in 2007. So, why publish it now? (Full disclosure: I made my stance clear in February, writing, “Our idolization of authors often leads to a greedy quest to absorb everything they’ve produced, regardless of their personal wishes and, perhaps most importantly, the best interest of their storytelling legacies.”) HuffPost Live posed the same questions to a panel of book reviewers: in publishing Watchman, “What are we trying to protect?

As one fan tweeted, “It’s like hearing that Santa Claus beat his deer.” The book’s evolution from “Watchman” into “Mockingbird” in less than three years is remarkable. At the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., a crowd of 60 people counted down to midnight, when a bookseller cut into cardboard boxes bearing orange embargo labels.

While champagne bottles popped and love letters to the author were being written, the figure of a racist Atticus Finch hovered menacingly in the air like the epic storm that had pummelled the area hours earlier. Eric Richardson had been brought down for the night from his base in Baltimore, Maryland, to entertain the book buyers with his impersonation of Peck-as-Finch.

One flashback scene, in which the young Scout attends a school dance, tripped her up. “She has what I can only describe as a wardrobe malfunction,” Ms. Jones said. “It was quite difficult to continue speed-reading and stop laughing.” On social media, readers posted photos of their just-delivered books. Others explained why they had decided not to buy it. “The more I think, the happier I am that I canceled my preorder,” historical-romance novelist Sarah MacLean wrote on Twitter. “Better for Harper Lee, for Atticus & for me.” She and others they would prefer to remember Atticus Finch as the civil-rights hero of “Mockingbird.” They also pointed to questions about the author’s ability to consent to publishing “Watchman.” An Alabama state investigation found that Ms. But that hadn’t dissuaded him from ordering 2,000 copies for Monday, 5,000 for Tuesday and a further 4,000 for later in the week – a grand total that equates to almost double the population of the town. Maldrie said he believed the kerfuffle brewing over Lee’s depiction of an aged, arthritic Finch – who utters the heart-sinking line: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theatres?” – can be put to positive use.

In London, hundreds of fans lined up before midnight at the Piccadilly Circus Waterstones bookshop, the flagship store of the country’s largest bookselling chain. To flip it over, to turn Atticus into a racist, that will get people thinking and talking about what more America must do to end this – and that’s a conversation worth having.” There was one voice that was not to be heard among the rising cacophony of southern debating.

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