26th September 2012
The Casual Vacancy, J. K. Rowling's first adult novel, is on course to become one of the fastest-selling books in history when it goes on sale tomorrow, after more than one million pre-orders were placed and publisher Little, Brown printed two million copies of the book to satisfy expected demand.
Rowling's Harry Potter books were a publishing sensation, with almost 500 million copies of the seven titles in the main series having been sold since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997.
Since the final instalment in the series - 2007's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - speculation has been rife about what Rowling would turn her attention to, though the debate was finally settled in April this year when the author revealed the title of her new book and announced it would be aimed squarely at the adult market.
The Casual Vacancy will delve into the sleepy town of Pagford, a major departure from the wizarding world that has captivated readers for 15 years.
Beginning with the death of Pagford parish councillor Barry Fairweather, the plot will concern the town's quest to find a suitable replacement – a process that unearths a number of secrets and uncovers a town at war.
Rowling revealed that 19th century literature was the inspiration for the novel, though was keen to stress that the book will not be suitable for younger readers, as it contains swearing and explores adult themes.
'When I did start writing it I was aware that I was doing a contemporary version of what I love, which is a big, fat 19th century novel set in a small community,' she explained.
'So to an extent - swear words notwithstanding - that is what The Casual Vacancy is. It is a parochial - literally - novel that's looking at slicing through a society with everything that that implies. That's what I wanted to do.'
The book industry has already borne witness to a publishing sensation this year in the form of E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, though that series only rose to prominence through word of mouth and it was not until some time after publication that the erotic novels began to set sales records.
Interest in The Casual Vacancy, on the other hand, has reached fever pitch before the book even goes on sale, leading many to believe that records will tumble tomorrow and in the coming days.
Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol currently holds the record for the most first week sales of an adult novel, standing at 550,000, though The Casual Vacancy looks set to easily eclipse that based on pre-orders alone.
Philip Stone, charts editor at The Bookseller magazine, commented: 'It's one of the biggest releases of the 21st century. I think 99.9 per cent of us in the industry are predicting it will go straight to number one.'
Rowling is evidently aware of the hype surrounding the novel and conceded she will have to 'suck it up' if the book fails to please her fans, but also noted that she has 'nothing to prove' after creating the most popular series of all time.
'I certainly don't mean that in an arrogant way. I certainly don't mean that I think I can't improve as a writer,' she added.
'But Harry Potter truly liberated me in the sense that there's only one reason to write, for me - if I genuinely have something I want to say, and I want to publish it.'
Jonathan Ruppin, Foyles' Web Editor, explained that Rowling has done 'a huge amount' to introduce the joy of books to new readers, young and old.
'We're very curious to find out exactly which direction she has taken her writing post-Potter. We hope this will be the case for fans too, persuading them that fantasy fiction is just one corner of a whole world of excitement and entertainment to be found in novels.
'Her name alone will of course ensure vast sales, as well as the pleasing prospect of widespread conversation about books,' he added.
'No doubt there will be reviewers who have already decided to pour vitriol upon it no matter its merits, but we're confident that readers will be able to make up their own minds. There are certainly plenty of Foyles booksellers who'll be diving in straight away.'