Further details of JK Rowling’s forthcoming first novel for adults have been revealed, with her publisher announcing that her “blackly comic” novel will be called The Casual Vacancy and will be published on 27 September 2012.
According to her publisher, Little, Brown, the novel will be set in a small town called Pagford, an English idyll “with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey”. But behind this chocolate-box façade is a “a town at war”.
In a statement, the publisher reveals that the story is set in motion by the unexpected demise of Barry Fairweather, a stalwart of the town’s parish council who dies in his early forties. This empty seat “becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen”, with “teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils”. As the election to find his replacement unleashes “passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations”, the novel puts Pagford’s rivalries under the microscope.
This story of small-town English life seems a world away from the hard-boiled Edinburgh crime fiction many were predicting after discovering that Rowling’s editor, David Shelley, counts Dennis Lehane, Val McDermid, Carl Hiaasen and Mark Billingham among his authors.
Waterstones’ Jon Howells is already predicting a “major bestseller, probably the bestselling fiction title this year.
“The real surprise is the plot detail – she never revealed this much in advance of the Harry Potter novels,” he said. “We were all expecting some sort of crime or mystery novel, but she has, refreshingly, surprised us all. The plot sounds like it will have hints of Mark Haddon and [Alexander] McCall Smith, and the promise of black comedy is very beguiling.”
Booksellers will be hoping that this comedy of British provincial life can match the commercial might of Rowling’s books for children. The seven titles that make up the Harry Potter series have sold 450m copies worldwide, and have produced eight films, which grossed more than $7bn. The boy wizard is also the focus of a theme park in Orlando, Florida.
The Casual Vacancy will be published simultaneously around the world in hardback, ebook and audio forms. Little, Brown were unable to confirm if the book includes a character called “Harry”.
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