Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has long lived as a literary recluse, famously dodging publicity associated with her classic work. After Mockingbird’s publication, she never wrote another novel. The author’s decades of silence (she famously turned her back if anyone mentioned her work in her presence) were broken this year, when HarperCollins announced the discovery of the manuscript for another novel, Go Set a Watchman, in Harper Lee’s safe-deposit box.
Almost from the moment its existence was announced, the book has been the subject of controversy. Critics have questioned the timing of the book’s discovery and wondered if Lee, 89 years old and in poor health, was pressured into allowing its publication.
The manuscript and its history resemble the old Churchill quote: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma—much to the consternation of the book-reading world.
Watchman tells the story of a grown-up Scout returning to Monroeville to visit her aging father after living in New York City for several years working as a writer. The trial of Tom Robinson, the central focus of Mockingbird, is mentioned only in passing. Shocking for fans of Lee’s first novel is the depiction of an aged Atticus who quietly supports segregation.
It’s possible some reviewer somewhere has been enraptured by the “new” novel, but from what The Scrapbook has seen, the reviews have run the gamut from awful to horrible. But at least the reviewers got paid. Ordinary fans have simply been distressed and appalled, with nothing to compensate them for their emotional pain. Till now.
Brilliant Books of Traverse City, Michigan, is offering dissatisfied customers a refund for Watchman. (The bookstore did not elaborate on how this differs from a return and whether it requires a receipt.) In a letter posted on its website, the bookstore called the novel “pure exploitation both of literary fans and a beloved American classic.” Instead of a sequel, they advise treating the book as an “academic insight” to be viewed with “intellectual curiosity and careful consideration.”
The Scrapbook seconds Brilliant Books’ advice, but would go a step further. Shouldn’t all books be approached with such curiosity and consideration?