With under 24 hours to go before publication of JK Rowling‘s The Casual Vacancy, the Harry Potter author’s first adult novel is already topping charts as booksellers predict “vast” sales. But despite a strict embargo early reviews are already appearing, with some critics saying that Rowling has retained her magic, and others calling the novel “dull”.
Copies were being delivered to shops today, to be ready for Thursday morning when a strict embargo lifts at 8am. Although no one is expecting The Casual Vacancy to notch up the first-day sales of the final Harry Potter novel, which sold 2.7m copies in the UK and 8.3m in the US in its first 24 hours in shops, both Waterstones and Foyles’ branches are opening early to catch excited readers, and booksellers are expecting the novel to be the biggest book of the year.
“I would be very surprised if it wasn’t the biggest book of the year, but we’re not talking Harry Potter levels,” said Jon Howells at Waterstones. “We’re expecting early visitors – but I don’t think they’ll be dressed as Hagrid. Probably a lot will be die-hard Harry Potter fans who are now adults.”
Early indications about the quality of The Casual Vacancy, which focuses on the fall-out when a parish councillor dies in a West Country village, have been mixed: New Yorker journalist Ian Parker, who read the novel in its publisher’s offices after signing a non-disclosure agreement, said it would “certainly sell, and it may also be liked”, while the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead – who also read the book under the watchful eye of its publisher – “loved” it.
The Associated Press (AP) and the New York Daily News both got their hands on early editions of the novel, with AP saying that it declined to sign a non-disclosure agreement, instead buying an early copy and finding that “what could have been an unreadable story becomes something else in Rowling’s hands, thanks to her gift of being able to make her characters complex and really, just human”.
“This is not a book that’s easy to fall in love with, the way Harry Potter was with its charming, winning hero and his plucky friends, saving the world from evil with the help of a powerful spell or two,” wrote AP’s reviewer Deepti Hajela. “[But Harry Potter] didn’t become a global phenomenon just because it was an exciting adventure, but because there was a real heart to it, characters who had both strengths and weaknesses, who struggled with their choices. That’s what makes this book worth it, despite a slow start and sometimes too much of the descriptions and adjectives that added life to Harry Potter but at times tend to bog Rowling down here. That’s what makes the book’s ending scenes so heartbreaking – turning the page seems unbearable, but not as much as putting down the book would be.”
The New York Daily News, however, was far more damning, saying the novel has “the ready appeal of reading minutes from a planning board”. “Rowling has said the worst anyone might say about The Casual Vacancy is that it is ‘dreadful’ — and that she ‘should have stuck to writing for kids.’ Well, here goes … Sorry, JK,” writes Sherryl Connelly. “The Casual Vacancy, which one bookseller breathlessly predicted would be the biggest novel of the year, isn’t dreadful. It’s just dull.”
Booksellers are crossing their fingers that readers will feel differently about The Casual Vacancy, which Rowling’s editor at Little, Brown, David Shelley, predicted would “be read for many, many years to come”. “Everyone’s very excited and curious – and it’s an affectionate curiosity, people want it to be good, they want her to have a second life,” said Howells. “If she takes what she’s learned over seven books and moves it into the grown-up sphere, it will be fabulous.”
At Foyles, Jonathan Ruppin said booksellers were “very curious to find out exactly which direction she has taken her writing post-Potter”.
“Her name alone will of course ensure vast sales, as well as the pleasing prospect of widespread conversation about books,” he said. “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.”
With a cover price of the novel is already selling for on Amazon and at Waterstones.com, and booksellers are predicting a vicious price war as shops look to land a slice of the profits. “Whilst there will be huge discounting, with many non-traditional outlets selling the book as a loss leader, it will still sell well through Foyles and other high street booksellers,” said Foyles’ Jasper Sutcliffe.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.