Harper Lee Belfast fans to raise glass as Mockingbird sequel Go Set A Watchman predicted to sell 'by the barn-load'
Harper Lee fans will finally be able to get their hands on her much-anticipated follow-up to To Kill A Mockingbird today - and some in Belfast will be celebrating with a glass of moonshine.
The new novel, Go Set A Watchman, is out this morning and is already a guaranteed best-seller as the follow-up to Lee's 1960 book about a rape trial in the racially-divided deep south of the US.
Waterstones in Belfast is opening half an hour early at 8.30am, giving city centre workers the chance to pick up the book on the way to the office.
A spokesman for the Fountain Street bookshop said it expected to be selling Go Set a Watchman "by the barn-load".
"We've dusted off the gramophone and started brewing up some moonshine for the biggest literary event of the year," said the spokesman.
"We'll be having an old-fashioned picnic of vittles (snacks) and lemonade with some of the finest old timey music you'll hear outside of the Grand Ole Opry.
"Moonshine will be non-alcoholic. We're excited, we're not crazy!"
The store will also host a special reading group on July 29 for readers to discuss the novel.
Easons' head book buyer Stephen Boylan said that sales of To Kill A Mockingbird surged by 98% following the announcement of the new novel, and went up by a further 96% in the past two weeks.
"We've received a number of pre-sale requests [for Go Set A Watchman]," he said. "The new Harper Lee book is our single biggest initial order of the year to date."
The original story and its central characters, Scout, her brother Jem and their lawyer father Atticus, are known and loved by millions of readers around the world, but many have been left "baffled and distressed" at the revelation the new book paints Atticus as a racist "bigot" who went to a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
Go Set A Watchman revolves around the now-adult Scout's return to her native Alabama from New York to visit her father.
A New York Times review revealed the plot twist, telling readers: "We remember Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's 1960 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, as that novel's moral conscience: kind, wise, honourable, an avatar of integrity who used his gifts as a lawyer to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town filled with prejudice and hatred in the 1930s."
It adds: "Shockingly, in Ms Lee's long-awaited novel Go Set a Watchman, Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like 'The negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.' Or asks his daughter: 'Do you want negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theatres? Do you want them in our world?'"
Concerns were raised about the extent of Lee's involvement in the project. Her agent was forced to respond to reports suggesting the 88-year-old was being taken advantage of. Authorities in her native Alabama closed their investigation into the issue saying the reclusive writer had "made it quite clear'' she wanted the book published.