Reese Witherspoon set to record Harper Lee’s new novel
Harper Lee’s closely guarded second novel, Go Set a Watchman, will have an unexpected early reader: Reese Witherspoon, who is due to record the audio version of the forthcoming book.
UK publisher William Heinemann announced this morning that the Oscar-winning actor would narrate Lee’s unexpected return to the world of fiction. “As a Southerner, it is an honour and a privilege to give voice to the Southern characters who inspired by childhood love of reading, Scout and Atticus Finch,” said Witherspoon, who won the best actress Oscar for the role of June Carter in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. “I am eager for readers to be transported to a pivotal time in American history in the manner that only Harper Lee’s gorgeous prose can deliver,” she told USA Today.
Go Set a Watchman, whose existence was only revealed in February, is one of the most anticipated novels of the year, already selling for less than half price on Amazon.co.uk more than two months before its 14 July release. Set after the events of Lee’s debut, To Kill a Mockingbird, it is said by its publishers to feature an adult Scout returning to the town of her childhood, where she will “grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood”.
Little more is known about the novel, which Lee has said in a statement was discovered by her friend and lawyer Tonja Carter after she set it aside in the 1950s. After reading Go Set a Watchman, her editor advised her to write a story from the perspective of Scout as a child. The resulting novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, went on to win the 1961 Pulitzer prize for fiction, after which Lee fell silent for more than 50 years.
The revelation that a sequel existed set off a host of allegations that the elderly author had been pressurised into publication, but an investigation in Alabama into the situation has since found that claims she was the victim of elder abuse were “unfounded”.
Security around the novel is tight, with foreign publishers wishing to acquire rights being required to travel to the London office of Lee’s literary agent to read it. Witherspoon is the latest in the small group of readers who have been permitted to view the title, a novel agent Andrew Nurnberg has described as “a very very fine book. Beautifully crafted – the language and the passion and the humour and of course the politics, that you know her for.”
Harper Lee elder abuse allegations declared ‘unfounded’ by Alabama
Nurnberg has vigorously defended his client’s mental state in the past, telling the Guardian that this “isn’t somebody with dementia who is being led up the garden path”, and adding: “Nelle is very lively, very funny. She is in very good form for a woman of 88, who has macular degeneration.”
Videl Bar-Kar, audio publisher at Penguin Random House, said: “Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is destined to be both the publishing event of the year and a classic for generations to come. We are thrilled that Reese Witherspoon will bring her formidable talent to the audiobook which will join our award-winning audio edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.”
– The Guardian
Witherspoon to read Harper Lee audio book
Actress Reese Witherspoon has signed on to narrate the audio version of the year’s hottest book, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.
The unabridged audio version will be released simultaneously with the book on July 14 by Caedmon Audio, an imprint of HarperAudio. Witherspoon is set to hit the recording studio this month.
Lee’s new novel, written in the 1950s but recently rediscovered, is a sequel to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird.
“As a Southerner, it is an honor and privilege to give voice to the Southern characters who inspired my childhood love of reading, Scout and Atticus Finch,” Witherspoon said in a statement. “I am eager for readers to be transported to a pivotal time in American history in the manner that only Harper Lee’s gorgeous prose can deliver.”
Witherspoon, 39, who was born in New Orleans, is a book lover who has brought some of her favorite recent titles to the big screen. She starred in and was a producer on Wild and a producer of Gone Girl. Along with Nicole Kidman, Witherspoon has optioned Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, in development for TV.
She also posts on Instagram books she’s reading, including the current smash hit The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (No. 2 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list) and Anthony Doerr’s best seller All the Light We Cannot See (she posted about Doerr’s book before it won the Pulitzer Prize this week).
This is the first time she has narrated an audio book.
“The publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the literary event of the year, and Reese Witherspoon’s extraordinary talent and Southern roots make her the perfect narrator,” says Sean McManus of HarperAudio.
– USA Today