NEW YORK (Reuters) - Whatever the final literary judgment on Harper Lee’s unexpected second novel “Go Set a Watchman”, one epithet has been swept away.
“One-hit wonder” is no longer a phrase that can be applied to the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the beloved novel about racism and injustice in the American South.
Lee, now 89, appeared to have joined the literary club that includes Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” and Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” when she stepped away from publishing and public life shortly after the release of her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel in 1960.
Lee has been quoted as saying she felt she had nothing more to say, and that she did not wish to go through the publicity again that surrounded “Mockingbird” and the subsequent Oscar-winning movie version.
But her reported comments have not stopped speculation over her decades-long literary silence.
The intrigue has been fueled anew by the arrival on Tuesday of “Go Set a Watchman,” which has many of the same central characters as “Mockingbird,” including a now-adult Scout Finch, but is set some 20 years after the events in the famous novel.
Lee has said her editor for what would become “Mockingbird” convinced her to turn the book into a coming of age story from Scout Finch’s perspective as a child, and she agreed. “Watchman” was then set aside and apparently forgotten.
Los Angeles psychotherapist Dr. Rebecca Roy said success can be scary, especially for writers.
”Once you have a big success it’s more terrifying than if you have a lot of failures and that’s why you get one-hit wonders. At the root of almost all writer or creative blocks is the feeling ‘they will figure out I don’t know what I am doing and I am a fraud,’ said Roy, who treats people who are struggling creatively.
“Writers seem to be more particularly affected because there is an isolation to it, and having to search your own soul. Or sometimes people give so much of themselves for one work that they feel they don’t have anything else inside to give, or it was such a painful process for them,” she said.
Donna Seaman, senior editor at the American Library Association’s review journal Booklist, said the literary world has always been intrigued by great novelists who appear to have developed writer’s block, “but in (Lee‘s) case it reached a mythologized level.”
“Anyone who writes and loves books knows it can’t be that simple. It really churns up deeper levels of the very endeavor of trying to write,” Seaman said.
“Mockingbird” is certainly a tough act to follow, said Sara Nelson, editorial director for books and Kindle at Amazon.com, where “Watchman” has the most pre-orders since the last in the “Harry Potter” book series in 2007.
“There are plenty of authors who suffer from some nervousness and anxiety about how their second effort will be received,” Nelson said.
Mary McDonagh Murphy, director of the PBS TV documentary “Harper Lee: American Masters,” said it was wrong to call the writer a recluse.
“She just stopped talking to the press. There is a difference ... She was a writer who didn’t want to talk about being an author, which as the years went on became very unusual,” Murphy said in a PBS interview.
Whatever the reasons for Lee’s long public withdrawal, Seaman said the publication of “Watchman” has rounded out the public perception of the Alabama-born author.
“She was seen as a very simplified and a tall-tale figure of American myth - the one-hit wonder writer, the recluse. But this has reminded us she is a human being, a brilliant person, a person of complex emotions and rich family legacy.”
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Paul Simao