Cynics may suspect the hand of the publicity or marketing departments.
But fans of Harper Lee will be confronted by a very different side of fictional lawyer Atticus Finch, known as a courtroom moral hero, in Harper Lee’s forthcoming novel Go Set a Watchman.
The book, reportedly written in the 1950s and later reworked on her editor's suggestion to become the famed To Kill a Mockingbird, sees Finch return, but this time as a bad tempered, elderly racist, rather than the calm and liberal rationalist exemplified by Gregory Peck's performance in the 1962 film adaptation.
According to a review in the New York Times, Finch appears in Watchman as an elderly man who once attended Ku Klux Klan meetings.
The revelation will shock fans of the celebrated writer who have been eagerly awaiting the new book as the literary event of the year. Whereas the reworked novel is written from the point of of view of Atticus's daughter, Scout, as a child, Watchman has her as an adult, trying to come to terms with the the more unpleasant aspects of her elderly father's personality.
“Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?” Finch asks a grown up Jean Louise, aka Scout.
According to the report, in Watchman, the beloved character denounces the Supreme Court’s Brown vs Board of Education decision, says he wants his home state “to be left alone to keep house without advice from the NAACP” and describes NAACP-paid lawyers as “standing around like buzzards”.
Lee, now 89 and largely confined to an assisted-living home in Monroeville, Alabama, was handed a copy of the new novel, published by HarperCollins, at a private lunch earlier this month.
The rest of the town is due to celebrate its publication on Tuesday with walking tours of the landmarks that appear in both books and a reading at the the courtroom, now a museum, which inspired the setting for the dramatic scenes in Mockingbird.
News of another, "lost" novel, sparked both excitement and confusion when it was reported earlier this year. There were suggestions the author may have been pressured into publishing it for reasons that little to do with art.
But those involved with the book denied such claims and Lee, who has not given a proper interview for decades, later issued a statement saying she was as "happy as hell" about it.
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