Thoughts on Harper Lee

Possibly the biggest literary news ever came unannounced on the 3rd February. Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird is to publish a brand new novel. Everyone went wild. Many jokes were made. But in the end, it left me feeling a little uneasy.

Lee herself is not known for interviews. That’s not to say she’s a recluse – she just doesn’t like to talk to the press. That’s fine. She has categorically very little to say publically about her work both past and future. It’s no surprise then that the announcement came as a surprise to us.

What did surprise me though was that the announcement came as a surprise to her editor who, in this interview on Vulture said, “I learned yesterday. Other people have read it at Harper, but I haven’t yet. The book had been a deep secret here, even to me.”

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In a piece from the New York Times, her sister Alice Lee said ‘that her sister “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”’

The novel itself was written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird, and some elements (particularly a sequence of flashbacks) were lifted wholesale for it. It sounds to me more and more like a literary curio: Silmarillion, or Pale King esque. I honestly don’t know quite what to feel about it. After all, Kafka asked for all of his work to be burned after he died, which his publisher did not do, instead he went ahead and published everything. Had he not done that, we would be without a great many classic works. The situation here is different, the press release seems to suggest that Lee is fully on board with the publication, despite an earlier assertation in 2011 that she wouldn’t release another book for, “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

The book is going to sell millions. There is an estimated print run of 2 million for the first edition of the novel which will likely sell out pretty much in week one. It will be the biggest release of the year and so, really, no matter what opinions we have about the author, no matter what opinions or thoughts we have about the publication of the book are pretty much moot by this point.

It’s strange to read back over what I’ve just written too. Everything I’ve said is the kind of thing I’d write for the posthumous release of a book, and that, to be honest, is what this feels like. It feels like a desecration. It feels like the digging up of bones. Something that shouldn’t perhaps be done with quite so much fanfare and glee.

This piece from Vulture, and especially the final line sums up my feelings at the moment, “In the absence of her being willing to talk, the only versions we’ll ever have are other people’s versions.”

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