To Kill a Mockingbird Sequel is Raising Eyebrows

This is a bit disheartening:

It was initially greeted with an outpouring of excitement, but questions soon began to be raised over the timing of the discovery, shortly after the death of Lee’s sister Alice Lee, and about the degree of Harper Lee’s own involvement in the deal.

“Alice Lee was about 12 years her sister’s senior, and she was Harper Lee’s buffer against the publicity-hungry world,” said Charles Shields, author of a biography of Lee, on Wednesday. “Alice advised Harper about financial matters, contracts, rights, and the rest of it. I can’t think it’s just coincidence that two months after Alice’s death, this 60-year-old manuscript is suddenly available for publication. Understanding the relationship between the sisters as I do, I doubt whether Alice would have allowed this project to go forward.”

After all, he added, the book “was written before Harper had the benefit of a strong, experienced editor at her eventual publisher”.

“Consider that To Kill a Mockingbird went through several complete drafts,” he said. “Although my fingers are crossed, I suspect Go Set a Watchman will show signs of what it is: a first attempt at novel-writing by a young, inexperienced author.”

Shields said it “wouldn’t be appropriate” to comment about Lee’s mental state, “but it’s well-known that she’s blind, she had a serious stroke several years ago, and in the past two years, her legal problems have been in the news several times after decades of silence. This indicates, I think, an elderly woman who’s getting poor advice.”

The novelist Philip Hensher also raised questions about the deal. “For 50 years she’s maintained the position that she’d said what she wanted to, with that one, fantastic, novel, and that she didn’t want to publish anything else. So why has she changed her mind, and has she changed her mind? … What I would very much like to see is some sort of accurate account of Harper Lee’s capacity to give consent, that doesn’t come from the publisher just saying she is in fantastic health, even though they haven’t seen her.”

In an interview with Vulture on Tuesday, Lee’s US editor told the site: “I think we do all our dealing through her lawyer, Tonja. It’s easier for the lawyer to go see her in the nursing home and say HarperCollins would like to do this and do that and get her permission. That’s the only reason nobody’s in touch with her. I’m told it’s very difficult to talk to her.”

The book that isn’t released until July is already ranked as #1 in Amazon sales.


  1. From this piece (and btw, you should be reading everything Mallory Ortberg writes):

    And then right after Harper’s sister/lawyer/advocate dies, this book just happens to turn up, and you just happen to set a release date? This feels like the publishing equivalent of “these jeans just fell off a truck, forty dollars, cash.”

    1. And later…

      Q: Have you asked Harper Lee for her opinion on publishing this book?
      A: Well, she’s very deaf, and it’s difficult to call her nursing home.

      Q: Okay, but have you asked her?
      A: The legal issues are all sorted out now, if that’s what you mean.

      Q: That isn’t what I mean. Has anyone at Harper asked the author of this book if she actually wants to have it published, unedited? Or did you just find a copy of an old manuscript of hers and wanted to see if you could publish it without her objections because she doesn’t have an active advocate? Is there a strategy here, or are you just sort of publishing whatever you find in the back offices?
      A: I call her Nelle!

  2. I didn’t know all this background, but my first reaction was, “Uh oh”.I really, really hope this book won’t tarnish her reputation. I think that it’s criminal to act for a person when she can’t hear or be heard.

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