Much has been made of the discovery and subsequent scheduled publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. The world seems to be divided. Should we be dizzy with excitement that the world’s greatest living one-hit literary wonder should have actually written another book? Or should we fear for her place in the canon, and a reputation potentially sullied forever all because someone, somewhere wanted to make a dollar?
At whitefox, we’ve been thinking about the whole story from another perspective, and wondering whether some people have been missing the point. How extraordinary and exceptional is it that Harper Lee came straight out of the traps with something so seemingly perfect as To Kill A Mockingbird (even if it now transpires this was in fact a second and not a first book).
In some ways, it all has a rather contemporary flavour. The writer pens an instant classic. That entity so beloved of and so regularly unveiled by the publishing marketing and PR machine. Except, more often than not, successful contemporary writers will say that, like any job, they must hone their craft, in some cases for years before they get to the point where they start producing their finest work. Certainly Hilary Mantel has said that she could not have written Wolf Hall had she not gone through the process of writing the preceding ten books.
And what about the case of the writer Lionel Davidson? If you have never read Kolymsky Heights, I urge you to do so. Recently reissued by Faber, it is a book described by Philip Pullman as “the best thriller I’ve ever read.” It seems, of its genre, practically perfect to me. Kolymsky Heights was Davidson’s fifth book, first published in 1994. When he was 72.