Lynda Hawryluk, Senior lecturer and course coordinator of the associate degree in creative writing at SCU Lismore, talking about Harper Lee's new book.
Lynda Hawryluk, Senior lecturer and course coordinator of the associate degree in creative writing at SCU Lismore, talking about Harper Lee's new book. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

SCU expert on whether To Kill a Mockingbird sequel stacks up

TO Kill a Mockingbird is regarded by many as a book you must read before you die.

First published in 1960 it has sold 30 million copies, collected a Pulitzer Prize, is a permanent school text and its success inhibited the author from releasing another novel - until now.

So the question on everyone's lips is how does Harper Lee's new book Go Set a Watchman stack up alongside its predecessor?

Southern Cross University lecturer Dr Lynda Hawryluk has been a die-hard fan of the original novel since she was a young girl.

Dr Hawryluk said reading the new novel, released in Australia only last week, was "like coming home" and a "fascinating insight into Harper Lee about whom much has been written and very little is known".

"I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 12 or 13 because my sister was reading it in school and I've read it pretty much every year since then," Dr Hawryluk said.

"For me, for this book to be published almost blows me away. It's one of those things I still cannot believe."

To Kill a Mockingbird and Lee have been inseparable over the years not just because of their legendary status in American literature but also because the novel is seen as largely autobiographical. After publishing her debut novel Lee never released another book and since 1964 has refused most interviews.

Go Set a Watchman is based in the same world as Mockingbird, but with some key time and plot differences.

It is set after the original - the protagonist Jean-Louise (Scout) is now 26 - but was actually written several years before.

One of the unique features of Mockingbird is its first-person perspective of the young Scout and the sympathetic view of her father Atticus.

The different presentation of Atticus in the new book has been a hot topic for commentators, some of whom have warned it risks shattering his popular status.

But Dr Hawryluk said this was a simplification.

She said Atticus was depicted through the eyes of a child in Mockingbird, a sanitised depiction then reinforced by actor Gregory Peck who played Atticus in the Hollywood version.

The "real" Atticus was a complex man who was definitely of his age in Alabama, where segregation was the norm.

"Of course when we're six we see our fathers in a different way to when we're 26, and Lee's two depictions demonstrate this well," Dr Hawryluk said.

Dr Hawryluk said the new novel is not Mockingbird but is a great opportunity for fans and newcomers to enjoy that world.

"It's an easy read, it's engaging, the characterisations are really solid," she said.

"You can see that she is a very good writer."


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