Entertainment & Arts

Harper Lee: 'Trade frenzy' and 'concern' over new book

Harper Lee in 2007 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption To Kill a Mockingbird is among the most beloved novels in history

News that an unpublished novel by Harper Lee is to be released more than 50 years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published has caused a "trade frenzy".

The Bookseller reported the news was "as big as it gets for new fiction".

But reactions also included concern about why Lee had allowed it to be published.

The news comes two months after Lee's lawyer sister Alice - who had protected her sibling's privacy - died.

The Bookseller revealed the overwhelming reaction to the new Harper Lee book in the publishing industry.

Foyles' Jonathan Ruppin told the trade magazine: "The prospect of a follow-up, after all these years, is giddyingly thrilling."

Waterstones' fiction buyer Chris White said: "I'm tempted to say that sequels are always tricky but honestly I couldn't be more excited.

"I think if you were to come up with a wish list of writers you most wanted to publish another book, there is nobody who would be above Harper Lee."

The book, entitled Go Set a Watchman, which features the character Scout Finch as an adult, will be released on 14 July.

Other writers have reacted positively to the news, including Val McDermid.

"I find myself as excited as a child on Christmas Eve about more prose from Harper Lee. Words that sing in the head," she tweeted.

Image copyright Twitter

And film-maker Michael Moore tweeted: "Harper Lee returns and there is joy throughout the land. I've ordered mine."

But actress Mia Farrow was one of many concerned about how the novel has come to be published after all these years.

She ‏tweeted: "Is someone taking advantage of our national treasure, 88-year-old Harper Lee?"

In a widely shared article on Jezebel entitled Be Suspicious of the New Harper Lee Novel, Madeleine Davies questioned whether "the gift" - as the book has been described by publisher HarperCollins - was "willingly given".

"Harper Lee's sister Alice Lee, who ferociously protected Harper Lee's estate (and person) from unwanted outside attention as a lawyer and advocate for decades, passed away late last year, leaving the intensely private author (who herself is reportedly in ill health) vulnerable to people who may not have her best interests at heart," she said.

Image copyright Tweet

Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she too was "just a little concerned that Harper Lee may have been pressured into this".

"The industry has been waiting 55 years for her to produce something else and I'm not sure this is necessarily the thing she wants to bring out," she said.

"While I'm very excited about it, I am really a little bit uneasy - because it is her first novel that is going to be coming out, and unedited and first novels are full of passion but can they also can be overwritten and a little clunky.

"And all writers have in our bottom drawer something that we would never want to see the light of day."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Harper Lee (r) is pictured in 2006 with her sister Alice Lee (l) and Monroe County judge Dawn Hare. Alice Lee was credited with protecting her sister's privacy until her death in November 2014

But in an interview with the Associated Press, HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham said he was "completely confident" Lee was fully involved in the decision to release the book.

He acknowledged the publisher had had no direct conversations about the new book with Lee, but said it communicated through her Monroeville lawyer, Tonja Carter, and literary agent Andrew Nurnberg.

Mr Nurnberg also issued a statement, admitting: "There will inevitably be speculation regarding Harper Lee as she has lived a very private life.

"She was genuinely surprised at the discovery of the manuscript but delighted by the suggestion to publish what she considers to be the 'parent' to Mockingbird.

"I met with her last autumn and again over two days in January; she was in great spirits and increasingly excited at the prospect of this novel finally seeing the light of day."

Image copyright Tonja Carter
Image caption A picture of Harper Lee was released with the announcement about the book publication

Author, journalist and Booker prize judge Erica Wagner told Today that fans needed to be ready to see "a much more raw text" as the book was unedited - pointing out how "important the editing was in the creation of To Kill a Mockingbird".

But whatever the literary merits of the book, she believed it would be welcomed by fans.

"Nothing will take away from the power of To Kill a Mockingbird whatever this book is like," she said.

"I don't think it's going to be awful - there will be a lot of respect when it comes out. She's a much loved writer, she's so enigmatic.

"And also these are characters that we love so much that we want to see what happens to them - so I think people will read it with all of that in mind."

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