Walk into any Waterstones nationwide and you’re bound to find a display somewhere near the entrance dedicated to Nelle Harper Lee’s first and presently only novel. This display will contain an abundance of paperback books with, more importantly, a sign notifying onlookers of a sequel to the said publication. To avid readers and literary scholars this will incite mixed feelings unique to each browsing shopper. However if you’ve never heard of To Kill A Mockingbird then you may not understand the hyper-activity of my fellow bookworms. For you poor deprived souls I implore you to go buy a copy of Lee’s first novel, currently half price in most bookshops. For those of you who are familiar with Lee’s work, I’m going to explain why you should be VERY excited for Go Set a Watchman.

Harper Lee released her novel To Kill A Mockingbird on the 11th of June 1960. Around the same time she was aiding Truman Capote with his novel In Cold Blood meaning that within the space of a year she had influence on two of the greatest American works of all time. From here onwards she could have written slogans for plumbers and they would still be revered as masterpieces and studied in school for years to come. Unfortunately all further works never materialised into publication. First she conjured up a second novel and then moved on to write a non-fiction about an Alabama serial killer titled The Reverend. Both attempts were scrapped and here starts the controversy over the release of Go Set a Watchman.

For a long time it seemed as though Lee was remaining true to her tomboy-from-a-small-town nature, shying away from fame and celebrity status. She instead chose a simple life of the common person, frequenting museums, cafes and public transport with unsuspecting folk. Even a Pulitzer Prize and a post on the National Council of the Arts couldn’t prise open her proverbial shell. The release of a film adaptation of her novel got her into interviews, but this was mainly to promote the movie. Be it self-consciousness, fear of publicity or just an undesire to publish again, Harper Lee for many decades wished for nothing but peace with her one novel.

In 2007 Harper Lee suffered a stroke leaving her partially deaf and blind. Some doubts have been cast over her mental health, but her Lawyer and good friend Tonja Carter dismissed any claims against her mental capacity. In fact it has been reported Lee herself was ‘hurt and humiliated’ by notions of poor mental health. There is still a possibility that Lee didn’t have the mental capacity to reach a decision on publication, but almost all evidence suggests it was her choice.

With doubts cast aside, a brief introduction to the novel is in order. To Kill A Mockingbird is a fictitious novel following the perspective of a now older woman named Scout, casting her mind back retrospectively to her days spent growing up in Maycomb alongside her brother Jem and the famous father figure, Atticus Finch. The novel crosses a wide spectrum of instances. We’re introduced to the two juveniles as carefree protagonists enjoying the inevitable shenanigans of childhood. As the novel progresses, their father enters a court case defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. During the case, the family are subject to oppressive attitudes of Maycomb residents despite Atticus’ ‘watchman’ status. Inevitably, as this is the 1960s, the defendant is convicted by an all-white jury.

Go Set A Watchman picks up the story with Scout now an adult returning to Maycomb to visit the now fictitiously-treasured Atticus Finch. This is where the novel enters dangerous territory, especially with such a highly regarded novel. Continuing a narrative outside the pages of a book is a pleasure reserved for the readers’ imagination. It allows for our own future to be created for the characters and as Lee has allowed 55 years to elapse, this future is entrenched in most minds.

Nevertheless the release of Go Set A Watchman is an exciting prospect not least for character development. Sadly, as events in Ferguson with the murder of Mike Brown show, racism is not confined to the pages of Lee’s novel. It is hoped the emergence of the new novel will inspire a new wave of Harper Lee readers. Perhaps if this generation read the book set over half a century ago and notice how little attitudes have changed, they too will question modern-day racism. Literature has always been a highly influential way of conveying ideology to the mass. Now I hope that Mrs Lee will live to see the beginning of the end of racism.

For those wishing to treat the novel as a purely recreational tool who are still doubting the quality of Lee’s second novel, bear in mind how selective Lee is. Fifty-five years of deliberation has led her to a decision. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Go Set A Watchman will be anything other than a literary masterpiece.

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