More than half a century after the mesmerizing success of her book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” fans and writers were both delighted and taken aback to hear that Lee was releasing another novel.
They were even more taken aback to learn that it was a manuscript written 60 years ago and hidden away after an editor told the young novelist to recast the book into what become “Mockingbird.”
“Go Set a Watchman” features many of the same characters as “Mockingbird” and was discovered among her papers by lawyer Tonja Carter.
But could Lee, who had a stroke in 2007 and so often said she would never publish again, really be happy that a manuscript, long since discarded, was going to see the light of day?
Friends acknowledge that Lee has poor eye sight and is deaf. She has lived in a nursing home since 2007.
Gossip blog Gawker quoted Carter as saying last July that he client sometimes signed things “she did not understand.”
Tongues wagged and Carter has been on the defensive, telling The New York Times that Lee is “extremely hurt and humiliated” by allegations that she has been manipulated.
“She is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel,” Carter told the newspaper through emails and text messages.
“Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.”
Last week, Carter released an earlier statement telling fans that Lee is “happy as hell” about the new book.
US media has fallen on the story, quoting alleged friends and associates of Lee as attesting to her excitement and lucidity, or raising doubts and speculation.
Lee, who rarely speaks to the media, said via HarperCollins, that she was “humbled and amazed” the manuscript was to be published after so many years.
– Best seller already-
“Go Set a Watchman” is already number one in the best seller list at online bookstore Amazon, where the 304-page hardback is available for pre-order ahead of its July release.
NPR reported that Lee’s friend, Wayne Flynt, visited her the day before news of the book came out and said she was of sound mind.
“Does she understand what’s going on? If you make her hear, she can understand what’s going on,” he said on NPR. “Can she give informed consent? Absolutely, she can give informed consent.”
He gave Lee’s lawyer the benefit of the doubt.
“Until someone shows me some evidence and not some rumor, I have no reason to doubt the lawyer’s concern about what is best for Harper Lee.”
Carter took on the role of Lee’s gatekeeper and lawyer after the author’s fiercely protective sister Alice died last summer.
Carter long had a close relationship with the sisters and works for the same law firm as Alice Lee.
Lee’s international rights agent, Andrew Nurnberg, was quoted in The Guardian as describing the novelist as “feisty and funny” when he met her recently.
“There will inevitably be speculation regarding Harper Lee as she has lived a very private life,” he said in an email quoted by The Guardian.
“I met with her last autumn and again over two days in January; she was in great spirits and increasingly excited at the prospect of this novel finally seeing the light of day,” he said.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” won the Pulitzer Price for its tale of racial injustice in the Great Depression-era South.
Published in 1960, is has become standard reading in American classrooms and has been translated into more than 40 languages, as well as adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck- AFP