A million orders have already been placed for JK Rowling’s ‘adult’ novel, The Casual Vacancy, reports The Daily Telegraph.
UK booksellers expect it to be the best-selling fiction title of the year and Philip Stone, charts editor at The Bookseller magazine, told AFP: "It's one of the biggest releases of the 21st century. I think 99.9% of us (in the industry) are predicting it will go straight to number one."
Bookshops are expected to open early for the launch of the novel at 8am on Thursday and pre-orders at Waterstone’s are the highest of the year so far.
The last book in Rowling's Harry Potter series sold 2.5M in its first 24 hours in the UK alone, although few are expecting the new book to emulate this figure.
Currently the record for most hardback sales in a first week for an adults’ novel stands at 550,000 for The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown’s eagerly-awaited 2009 follow-up to The Da Vinci Code.
It will be difficult for Rowling to match that and even harder to try to catch up with the latest publishing behemoth, EL James’s Fifty Shade of Grey, which has sold 5.3M copies in print and ebooks.
A Waterstone’s spokesman said of the new Rowling book: “This is definitely the biggest launch of the year. Having said that, it is not in the league of Harry Potter, which is obviously a phenomenon that built up over a decade.”
Rowling's publisher Little, Brown has released some details of the plot, while a few more have emerged from the few journalists allowed advance access to the book, under tight security reminiscent of the height of Pottermania.
Set in the fictional village of Pagford in southwest England, the story opens with the death of a member of the local parish council.
Middle-class villagers soon begin plotting to fill the vacant seat with someone sympathetic to their cause – ridding Pagford of its responsibility for the Fields, a squalid housing estate.
"We're a phenomenally snobby society," Rowling told the Guardian, "and it's such a rich seam. The middle class is so funny."
Tackling themes including heroin addiction, prostitution, single parenthood and adolescent lust, the book is a radical departure from the sanitised fantasy of her seven novels pitting teenage wizards against the evil Lord Voldemort.
Rowling said she had been itching to cover more adult topics.
"There are certain things you just don't do in fantasy," she told the New Yorker magazine. "You don't have sex near unicorns. It's an iron-clad rule. It's tacky."