There’s always been discussion about the true authorship of To Kill a Mockingbird. Did Harper Lee write it or was her friend from Monroeville Alabama, Truman Capote, the author? The question of the novel’s origins has come up again with the publication of a “first” novel, recently “discovered” among the 89-year-old author’s papers.
Go Set A Watchman is described as the novel that Harper Lee wrote first, and then put aside, before writing her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1961. There are some problems with that chronology.
I don’t want to mince words here, so let me begin by saying that Lee’s just published “early” novel isn’t much worth your time. Let me also say that it’s difficult to believe that the same person wrote both novels. I will also admit a deep affection for To Kill a Mockingbird, which my students and I shared in many 10th-grade classes over 20 years. This new book — the manuscript that became this book — should have been left where it was, in Harper Lee’s attic.
When did Lee write Watchman, if in fact she wrote it at all? If Watchman came first, why does the writer allude to plot incidents and characters from Mockingbird in the ‘‘new” novel as if expecting us to be familiar with them? If instead, Watchman is Lee’s attempt at a sequel, how could Scout, who shows so much promise as a child, have become the insignificant adult she shows herself to be in Watchman? The narrator of Mockingbird is the grown-up Scout Finch, who looks back on the events of her childhood with an understanding that she did not have as a child. Even as a child, she seems wise beyond her years. The narrator of Mockingbird and the central character of Watchman are not the same woman. What a disappointment, as is the plot, and the unimpressive dialog and overall style.
I wish I hadn’t contributed my $16.07 plus postage to lawyers and promoters for a book that diminishes Miss Lee’s reputation as a writer. Additionally, the book does more than diminish the reputation of one of the 20th century’s most admired literary heroes: Atticus Finch. Then it does the same to Scout. Had I picked up Go Set a Watchman without reading all the ballyhoo, I probably would have put it down before finishing the second chapter.
Three totally unpretentious, unheralded beach books disappointed me less than the “new” Lee novel. If you think Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl was a good read, you’ll probably like The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford. This book also explores an unpleasant marriage, and a murder.
The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson reminds me of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Instead of living different lives through time, the protagonist in this novel is living two at the same time. One exists in her dreams where she is the married mother of three children; one is her waking life as the single owner of a bookshop. Which life is she meant to be living? You’ll turn the pages to find out as fast as you can.
The Wonder Garden is a novel, but seems like a collection of stories about the people of a small Connecticut town. The unity of Lauren Acampora’s narrative builds as her characters’ paths cross, sometimes in unexpected ways.