London,( AFP) Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s first novel for adults hit the shelves Thursday and has already notched up advance sales of one million copies, but reviewers gave the gritty tale a mixed reception.
Fans of Rowling snapped up copies of “The Casual Vacancy” when the book went on sale, although there was none of the hysteria that accompanied each launch of a new title about the boy wizard.
Several reviewers said the eagerly awaited work was a dull read in parts despite scenes of sex and drugs, and Rowling’s most vivid writing was on the familiar ground of children pitted against the power of adults.
“I had just read a passage written by the world’s favourite children’s author in which a teenager is raped by her mother’s heroin dealer, a man who may well be the father of the girl’s own three-year-old stepbrother, although it’s hard to know for sure when the mum concerned is a prostitute,” wrote Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph.
She said the novel was “sometimes funny, often startlingly well observed, and full of cruelty and despair”.
But the Mirror tabloid labelled it “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Filth”, warning that Rowling was “sure to face stern criticism” for its liberal use of obscene language.
Set in the fictional village of Pagford in southwest England, the black comedy deals with the fight to fill a slot on the parish council after the incumbent’s sudden death, and hinges on the fate of a squalid housing estate.
Kept closely under wraps until publication, it is widely expected to be Britain’s top-selling fiction title this year.
Other reviewers hailed Rowling’s foray into books for adults.
In the Independent, Boyd Tonkin called it a “song of freedom” after Rowling’s seven books about the boy wizard, which by some estimates made her the world’s first billionaire author.
Fans were keen to get their hands on the novel at Foyles book shop in London’s Charing Cross Road.
Rhiane Jones, 29, from Wood Green in London, said: “Harry Potter was a large part of the experience of growing up so I was quite curious about what she’d produce.
“I think her fan base will be curious about a novel that is targeted at them now they’ve grown up.
“She may not be the most stylish user of language but she’s an amazing storyteller. It will be a good read.”
Sion Hamilton, general manager of the shop, said the name alone would sell the book.
“Comparing it with other JK Rowling novels is difficult,” she told AFP. “But even if we are far from Potter’s universe, it’s still from her pen.”
Rowling, 47, has said she left “the door ajar” for a return to the world of Harry Potter, although she said she was not intending to write any more books about the young wizard.
“There’s only one reason to write now: for me,” she told the BBC.
She admitted it was “murder” saying goodbye to her most famous character.
“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.”