Atticus is 72 and Scout is in love

To Kill a Mockingbird sequel

Scout is an independent woman living in New York with a childhood friend who wants to marry her back home in Alabama. Her brother is dead and her father, Atticus, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

These are the tantalizing plot details revealed in the first chapter of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman , whose release next Tuesday is one of the biggest events in publishing history.

Pre-orders have already made the new novel a best-seller and HarperCollins has reportedly ordered a first printing of two million copies, an astonishing number in an increasingly digital age.

Lee’s only previous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird , is considered a 20th century masterpiece that defined racial injustice in the Depression-era South of the U.S. and became standard reading in classrooms.

Controversy continues to rage over whether the 89-year-old novelist, who avoids the media and lives as a recluse in an Alabama nursing home, was manipulated into publishing the novel.

Watchman lay hidden for years after being written in the 1950s, when an editor told Ms. Lee to recast the book from the childhood perspective of Scout, which eventually turned into Mockingbird .

But the publication on Friday of the first chapter by the Wall Street Journal and Guardian newspapers, and an audio version by Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon, whetted appetites — and had reviewers both salivating and sharpening their knives.

The book begins with Scout, or Jean Louise Finch, taking the train home to Maycomb County on her fifth annual visit from New York.

As she nears her destination, Scout ruminates on the scenery, the history of Maycomb and her family, all bittersweet when read in 2015 — more than 60 years after it was originally written.

Much of the chapter is dominated by playful banter between Jean Louise and Henry Clinton, who loves her and wants to marry her. But Jean Louise is less sure. She is “almost in love”, the reader is told.

“‘Henry’, she said primly, ‘I’ll have an affair with you but I won’t marry you’.”

Scout discovers that her 72-year-old father has rheumatoid arthritis, which made him unable to collect her.

But the biggest bombshell for fans was that Scout’s brother Jem, who played a prominent role in Mockingbird , had suddenly died. — AFP

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