UK prepares for Harper Lee fever as print run for Go Set a Watchman nears 1m copies

The publication of the much anticipated To Kill a Mockingbird sequel could rival Harry Potter fever when the full book is released on Tuesday

* warning: plot spoilers *

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Bookshops in the UK are stocking up on Harper Lee’s much anticipated novel Go Set a Watchman, with close to 1m copies believed to be ready for the official release at midnight on Tuesday July 14.

An estimated print run of 700,000 to 900,000 copies of the book will be available for readers desperate to find out what has happened to Scout Finch and her father Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Kill a Mockingbird, which tells the story of racial divisions in a small community in the south of the US through the eyes of the child Scout, is regarded as one of the greatest books of the 20th Century.

But Lee, a very private and reclusive person, never wrote another full length book following To Kill a Mockingbird’s publication 58 years ago.

The opening chapter of the sequel was released online yesterday, containing the book’s first 3,679 words and revealing a plot which follows a 26-year-old Scout – who calls herself Jean Louise Finch – returning to visit her father Atticus in his southern homeland. Atticus, the idealistic lawyer played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film of the novel, is elderly and fairly infirm.

Sadly – SPOILER ALERT! – we also discover that Scout’s brother Jem has died and Atticus may not be the sainted figure in later life as he was in To Kill a Mockingbird…

However even that blow will not put off those lovers of Lee’s original who are expected to be queueing round the block on Tuesday for the 21 midnight openings at bookshops round the country.

If the estimated print run is sold out, it will mean that Lee’s book will echo the frenzied first day sales of books written by Dan Brown and JK Rowling.

Brown’s recent book, The Lost Symbol, had a UK print run of 1.5 million in 2009 while the last Harry Potter Book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, sold 2.65 million copies in the UK on its first day of publication.

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The global print run of the hardback copy of Go Set a Watchman is, incidentally, estimated to exceed three million, according to industry experts.