February 5, 2015 / 8:38 PM / 3 years ago

Harper Lee 'happy as hell' about reactions to new book

U.S. President George W. Bush (L) awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (C) in the East Room of the White House, November 5, 2007.Larry Downing/Files

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The 88-year-old author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" is "happy as hell" with the reaction to her decision to publish a second novel, her lawyer said on Thursday in answer to concerns about the reclusive author's mental and physical state.

Publisher Harper said on Tuesday that Harper Lee would release the novel "Go Set a Watchman," written in the 1950s and featuring lead characters from her 1960 first novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," which over the past 55 years had become a classic without an encore.

A statement from Lee's attorney, Tonja Carter, followed publicly aired concerns, including from actress Mia Farrow and writer Madeleine Davies, about whether Lee was pressured into agreeing to have the book published.

"She is alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions of 'Watchman,'" Carter said in the statement.

Lee, who spent much of her life alternating between New York and her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, has been in an assisted-living facility after a suffering a stroke and has failing vision and hearing.

Her sister, Alice, who was Lee's longtime attorney, died in November.

Wayne Flynt, a professor emeritus of history at Auburn University in Alabama who is one of Lee’s close friends, said he did not think Lee was being taken advantage of.

"It’s absurd,” said Flynt, who visits Lee monthly. “She’s not demented."

During his visit with Lee on Monday, he said, she displayed her typical humor and impressive recall of history and literature.

"She has short-term memory problems like everybody who is 88," Flynt said. "Otherwise, she is sharp as a tack.”

"Go Set a Watchman" was written before "To Kill a Mockingbird," which won the Pulitzer Prize and went on to sell more than 30 million copies.

Although written first, "Go Set a Watchman," features lawyer Atticus Finch 20 years later as his adult daughter, Scout, returns to visit him in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. It is scheduled to be published July 14.

Reporting by Laila Kearney and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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