Harper Lee new novel deemed 'clunky,' 'distressing' as it hits bookstores

Tue Jul 14, 2015 4:09pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bookstores opened early across the United States on Tuesday as Harper Lee's second novel, "Go Set a Watchman," went on sale to mixed reviews and widespread disillusion over the depiction of heroic lawyer Atticus Finch as a 1950s racist.

In Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, one of the author's old friends reported the writer was delighted with the response to her only published novel since her 1960 classic "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"She looked at the stack of reviews and her reaction was delight," Professor Wayne Flynt told reporters on Tuesday. He said he paid Lee, who has failing eyesight and vision, a visit on Monday evening as hundreds of townsfolk lined up to buy the book at midnight.

"She loves the spectacle of this, everyone in town. I summarized the reviews, but I'll go back tonight and read them too her. She's processing this all in good humor. I think the world takes her more seriously than she takes herself," Flynt said.

Although widely billed as a sequel to Lee's tale of racism and injustice in the American South, "Watchman" was written before "Mockingbird" but is set 20 years after the events of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Lee, now 89, was advised by her editor in the 1950s to recast "Watchman," which features a grown-up Scout Finch and her aging father, Atticus Finch, and tell the story from a child's point of view. That reworking became "Mockingbird."

"Watchman"s portrayal of the older Finch as a man who has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting and opposes racial desegregation has already grabbed headlines because of the stark contrast to the noble lawyer in "Mockingbird" who defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

The character was immortalized in Gregory Peck's Academy Award-winning performance in the 1962 film version.   Continued...

A woman holds a copy of Harper Lee's book "Go Set a Watchman" before purchasing it inside of a Barnes & Noble store in New York, July 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson