Talking about fiction yesterday, I want to mention the book ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee. Most people know this book. It has recently celebrated it’s 50th birthday, so hard to miss. We now hear there is another book by Harper Lee, allegedly written before the first, serving as a sequel because the characters are older. Harper Lee has always shunned publicity. This is not something even the most reluctant authors can do today if they want to promote their work in the sea of books available. Harper Lee’s sister was her lawyer and always handled her affairs until the sister died recently aged 100. Current reports state that Harper Lee also in advancing years, would sign any papers her sister placed in front of her, such was her implicit trust over the years in her sibling. Now her sister is gone there are new people. Hot shot lawyers, accountants, media experts, starting what might inevitably become a feeding frenzy. There is speculation that Harper Lee may, with her failing health, be unaware that this book has been sold, or even exposed. For someone who wrote such a singular and profound piece, I sincerely hope that the decision to publish is hers, and that it works. Maybe we will never know the truth. ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ is one of my favourite books. The thought of a sequel filled me initially with excitement. Now I’m not so sure. How do you follow a book that has graced every school, every library and every bookshop, spawned countless theatre productions and films continuously for the last 50 years? This book will have to be one of the most brilliant ever written. The bar will need to be raised so high, I doubt we will be able to see it.
Whenever something amazing happens, humans often want more. Where lightning strikes, we want it to strike again. Once is rarely enough. We want to emulate, repeat, follow on, see sequels, prequels, and with films about chipmunks see ‘squeakels’. Yes I did say that. We want to repeat what went before. Tired and aged rock stars come out of retirement and play to jaded audiences. They play stuff that sounded great thirty years ago because we were all thirty years younger, and didn’t have a care in the world, a mortgage, children, tinnitus and piles. It wasn’t just about the music, it was about us. It was everything we were back then, sacrosanct and true.
Why can’t we leave these things alone? I have no quarrel with history, but I do have an issue with resurrection. Or even encores. How many times did Tina Turner retire? Did she keep coming back to see if the applause would be as it was? Of course it wasn’t. Most of the audience have got arthritis! There are a whole list of super groups who have traipsed across the world still doing the old stuff. Some have even done the new stuff, an album of hip hop or garage, to contrast with the earlier prog’ rock. No one was asking, and I’m not aware that in most cases many were buying. Some of course pull it off, and go on to forge a second career. And good for them. Look at Vera Lyn. But what about the rest of them. We turn up in the hope that the past might resurrect itself, because once they delivered it. Now, in truth they dish out disappointment, and it’s hard to take. We can’t go back, recreate a moment exactly as it was.
When I buy Harper Lee’s new book, and I know I will. I shall keep it for some time before opening it, wondering in the end whether it will tarnish one of the most significant books ever written. I really hope not, but I’m not holding my breath.