Harper Lee fans packed bookshops up and down the country last night and early this morning to mark the midnight release of Go Set a Watchman (William Heinemann) on what was described as "a special night" , with booksellers predicting that "sales will live up to the hype".
But there were mixed views over the depiction of Atticus Finch in the newly published novel, where the lawyer - the liberal hero of To Kill a Mockingbird - is presented as having much less progressive reviews on race equality.
Paul Sweetman, co-owner of City Books in Hove worried that those elements of the review may deter customers from buying the title. “That element might put people off a bit,” he said. “That might be hard for people to stomach, but I suppose many people had that frame of mind in the 1950s.” But Jo Batchelor co-owner of Devizes Books, said: “I think people will still buy it because they will want to make their own minds up. It is a genuinely exciting one-off literary event and everyone is talking about it, so I think sales will live up to the hype.”
Customers at Waterstones Piccadilly
Waterstones stores across the country held free midnight and early morning events, with the flagship store in London’s Piccadilly entertaining a crowd of hundreds from 7.30pm onwards, with authors Joanna Trollope and Paul McVeigh, and theatre director Timothy Sheader discussing the enduring influence of To Kill a Mockingbird, before Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty director and Labour MP Diane Abbott [pictured below] debated issues of racism, human rights and equality in the title, assessing its influence on a generation of lawyers and policy-makers.
Display at Waterstones Piccadilly
Shami Chakrabarti and Diane Abbott
The sold-out event, packed with excited fans of all ages, then showed the classic 1962 film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham before customers drank cocktails around a tree dangling with copies of Go Set a Watchman and counted down to midnight before taking a copy to the till while news cameras rolled.
Foyles’ flagship on London’s Charing Cross Road also held an all-evening event until 1am, showing the To Kill A Mockingbird film before entertaining guests with a live Dixie jazz band as part of “an evening of Deep South music, liquor and revelry, culminating in the first chance to buy Go Set a Watchman as the bells struck midnight.”
Simon Heafield, marketing manager at Foyles, said: "'We had a buzzy evening with the queue starting to form at 10pm. We welcomed a few hundred customers who were thrilled with their purchases. We also sold out of DVD and book bundles of To Kill a Mockingbird. If this evening is anything to go by, Go Set a Watchman will live up to its billing as the publishing event of the year. "
Many indies, meanwhile, put on late night and early morning events in their numbers around the UK to mark the release of the new Lee title, which is told in the 1950s, and features many of the same characters of To Kill A Mockingbird but some 20 years later.
Castle Bookshop in Ludlow hosted a sold-out dinner of Southern-style American food and film showing for 50 customers last night and City Books in Hove put on a screening in its local Duke of York's Picture House. Sky News went to Forum Books in Northumberland to film world champion speed reader Anne Jones read the book in 26 minutes and 31 seconds at 7.30am this morning, while Devizes Books in Wiltshire put on pastries and coffee plus an event with local playwright Liam Rafferty.
A die-hard fan is first in the queue at City Books' event at the Duke of York's Picture House in Brighton
Customers at Devizes Books in Wiltshire
Valerie Wolcott, a business analyst who attended the Waterstones Piccadilly event, said: "I am really looking forward to reading Watchman. I am looking forward to reading a version of Atticus that wasn't perfect. I really admired him at the time of reading but I knew he couldn't be perfect so I am really looking forward to reading this book."
Shiraz Engineer, Booktrust programme coordinator for schools, who attended the event with her sister Friya, said: "We are very excited. To me, I thought this kind of thing would never happen. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favourite book, so for this new book to come out so many years later when I was always told Harper Lee would never write anything more is like a miracle. This is a special night."