THE FIRST chapter of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, perhaps the most eagerly anticipated sequel in history, was published yesterday.
It begins with a grown-up Scout, the beloved character from Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, returning to Maycomb, Alabama, where she is greeted by a young man who wants to marry her.
It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effortHarper Lee
The full novel is set for publication by HarperCollins on 14 July but the first chapter was posted on the websites of the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian yesterday morning.
Go Set a Watchman – also the most unexpected second novel in memory – takes place in the 1950s, 20 years after the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
HarperCollins has said that pre-orders for Go Set a Watchman are the highest in company history and bookstores worldwide are planning events to celebrate the book’s release.
Anticipation and apprehension have surrounded Watchman since it was announced in February. The surprise and ecstasy of a new work from Lee have been shadowed by suspicions the book doesn’t measure up to Mockingbird and was approved without the 89-year-old author’s full awareness.
Lee has poor hearing and vision and resides in an “assisted living facility” in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
But her lawyer Tonja Carter, literary agent Andrew Nurnberg and the publishers have insisted she is delighted the book is coming out. Its publication even led to at least one complaint of possible “elder abuse”, but state officials determined Lee was alert and capable of deciding on the release of Watchman.
Pictures emerged yesterday of Lee, 89, in Monroeville on 30 June where she was shown the hardback copy of Watchman for the first time.
Critics have been mixed in their opinion on the opening chapter of the book
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, is set in the 1930s in the fictional town of Maycomb and introduced Atticus Finch, Scout, Boo Radley and other beloved literary characters.
The book was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus and has become standard reading in schools, with worldwide sales topping 40 million copies.
In the years that followed Mockingbird, Lee struggled to write a second book and eventually determined that the novel could stand on its own, apparently not previously considering Watchman a possible successor.
She has not spoken to the media in decades and her absence from any promotion for Watchman marks a rare occasion – that such a high-profile work is being released without the participation of a living author.
“In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman,” Lee said by statement in February. “My editor persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of Scout. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published.”