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Go Set a Bestseller

20 July 2015

A kind of fever seems to have gripped a large number of book-buyers who have rushed out to buy Harper Lee's ‘new' book Go Set a Watchman, making the book a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. HarperCollins in the States says that the book has broken its own record for the number sold. But why is there such a huge surge of interest?

Part of the reason is obvious. To Kill a Mockingbird was everyone's favourite book, a ‘literary' book which was on school reading lists but which was also a good story which students and young people generally would enjoy because the story is told from Scout's point-of-view. Perhaps the author's long silence after that one bestseller is part of the mystique. It's also always intriguing to find there's a story of a lost manuscript being rediscovered.

In this case there's also some confusion about the story of the rediscovery, with Harper Lee's lawyer finding it, and it's not clear how much the author herself is directing events, or whether the lawyer is pursuing the publication of the manuscript.

There's also been the scandal of the upright character of Atticus in Mockingbird being exposed as a racist in the second book. Early reviews suggested that this new book is in fact an earlier draft of the book which became To Kill a Mockingbird and that seems likely and perhaps as near as we're ever going to get to the truth. Suggestions that it should not have been published are surfacing already and at the very least Harper Lee's lawyer can be accused of not looking after his client's interests very well, at least as far as her literary reputation is concerned. But then, the book is a huge bestseller and that's probably down to him too. There might be a lot of disappointed readers around though.