Bookshops opened their doors early today for readers to get their hands on JK Rowling's first novel for adults.
The Casual Vacancy, the author's first full-length book in five years, is expected to fly off the shelves following her record-breaking Harry Potter series.
Rhiane Jones was the first to get her hands on the eagerly-anticipated novel at Foyles book shop in Charing Cross Road, central London.
The 29-year-old, from Wood Green, north London, said: "Harry Potter was a large part of the experience of growing up so I was quite curious about what she'd produce."
She continued: "I think her fan base will be curious about a novel that is targeted at them now they've grown up. And people who've bought into the hype around the book and just want a good story will be interested.
"She may not be the most stylish user of language but she's an amazing storyteller. It will be a good read."
Publishers have gone to extreme lengths to keep details of the novel under wraps before its release.
It has been described as a "blackly comic" tale about an idyllic town ripped apart by an election.
The story is set in Pagford, a dreamy spot with a cobbled market square and ancient abbey, which becomes a town at war with itself.
Published simultaneously in e-book and audio formats, it begins with the unexpected death of Barry Fairweather, whose demise in his early 40s leaves a space on the parish council.
Booksellers took delivery of the novel yesterday and the boxes were unsealed just minutes before shops opened at 8am.
Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, said she hopes readers will be open-minded about Rowling's change of direction.
"There's no way that it isn't nerve-wracking when you have so much attention on what you do and your choices and everything, but she's so wonderful and so clever and there's no way it's not going to be brilliant. I just hope that people are open-minded enough to be supportive," she said.
Rowling, 47, has amassed a fortune estimated to be around £620 million from her seven Harry Potter books for children and all the spin-off rights. She said she left "the door ajar" for a return to the world of Harry Potter but there would be no more books about the young wizard.
– JK Rowling, speaking to the BBC
There's only one reason to write now: for me.
But truly, where Harry's story is concerned, I'm done. I just think it would be for the sake of milking it and that's just not in me.
Now, having said all of that, I have always left the door ajar because I'm not that cruel. If I had a fabulous idea that came out of that world, because I loved writing it, I would do it.
But I've got to have a great idea. I don't want to go mechanically into that world and pick up odds and ends and glue them together and say 'Here we go, we can sell this'. It would make a mockery of what those books were to me. They really kept me going through some very rough times... so I just don't want to betray them in that sense.
Rowling added that she was tempted to rewrite some of the books, as "a director's cut", because she wrote them too quickly and that the next book she writes would be for slightly younger children than her Harry Potter audience.
Here's a selection of newspaper review comments on the novel:
- The Guardian's Theo Tait: "The Casual Vacancy is a solid, traditional and determinedly unadventurous English novel."
- The Daily Telegraph's Allison Pearson: "The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling’s first adult novel, is sometimes funny, often startlingly well observed, and full of cruelty and despair."
- The Evening Standard's David Sexton: "The problem for Rowling's legions of fans will be that she has forgotten to include any basic likeability in her characters here or any real suspense as to what will happen - or deliberately chosen not to supply it."
- The Daily Express's Emma Lee-Potter: "The book isn't flawless. Her writing style is direct and uncomplicated rather than literary and she has an annoying habit of shoving slabs of explanatory detail into brackets."