JK Rowling's first novel for adults has gone on sale - and has won mixed reviews from critics.
Pre-sales of The Casual Vacancy were the highest of any book this year, but little was known about its content which was shrouded in secrecy up to release.
But leading newspaper critics who have read it have described it as "brilliant", "dull", "overlong" and "like The Archers on amyl nitrate".
Many Rowling fans were in bookshops early to be the first to get their hands on a copy.
Speed reader Anne Jones skimmed the novel for Sky News in a bookshop in London.
She was pleasantly surprised with the plot and the author's range, and said she thought the "second half of the book was better than the first".
The novel is about a "snobby middle class" West Country community riven by provincial politics and the fallout when a parish councillor dies.
It has been reported that the village she describes is based on Tutshill where Rowling was brought up as a child.
However, residents told Sky News they are not particularly happy about the description and it is not their experience of the area. Carla Newton said people are keen to find out more.
"I'll definitely be reading it in case I can recognise someone," she said.
Rowling has amassed a fortune estimated to be around £620m from her seven Harry Potter books and all the spin-off rights.
The author has revealed that her next novel is very likely to be another children's book.
:: Allison Pearson, The Daily Telegraph
Invariably, the author is best when she is back on home ground, dealing with the teenage characters, their inchoate yearnings and lonely friendships.
The book is at its weakest when it is most angrily political, satirising what JK’s friend, Gordon Brown, calls "bigots". And the novel pretty much explodes towards the end, losing shape in its fury at the dirty, unfair England that we Muggles have made for ourselves.
It’s like The Archers on amyl nitrate.
:: Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Unfortunately, the real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that The Casual Vacancy is not only disappointing - it’s dull.
This is definitely not a book for children: suicide, rape, heroin addiction, beatings and thoughts of patricide percolate through its pages; there is a sex scene set in a cemetery, a grotesque description of a used condom, and alarming scenes of violent domestic abuse.
The novel contains moments of genuine drama and flashes here and there of humour, but it ends on such a disheartening note with two more abrupt, crudely stage-managed deaths that the reader is left stumbling about with whatever is the opposite of the emotions evoked by the end of the Harry Potter series.
:: Theo Tait, The Guardian
There are some superficial excitements here, in that the younger characters get up to things that Harry Potter probably never dreamed of: taking drugs, swearing, self-harming, having grimy casual sex, singing along to Rihanna.
The new book contains regular outbursts of four-letter words, along with the memorable phrase "that miraculously unguarded vagina" - which, leaked in a pre-publication profile, has caused a flurry of jokes on Twitter about Harry Potter and the Miraculously Unguarded Vagina.
Generally, though, The Casual Vacancy is a solid, traditional and determinedly unadventurous English novel.
:: Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
Rowling's writing can be laborious in set-pieces but picks up magic with the adolescent characters.
The Casual Vacancy, which like that dawdling school bus in a smug West Country town stops to picks up several sets of characters and sub-plots on its route, nonetheless pivots on a simple story of rivalry over a parish-council by-election.
The contest proves in the end something of a McGuffin that spurs the action along, rather than a page-turner in itself.
:: Henry Sutton, Daily Mirror
This is a novel about intervention and non-intervention, about prejudice, pretension, snobbery, NIMBYism and pettiness.
It’s also about loving and caring, for both family and community, and trying to get that impossible balance right.
Of course, Rowling didn’t have to write this novel but she has done a rather brave thing - and pulled it off magnificently.
:: Jan Moir, Daily Mail
JK Rowling likes to describe her new book as a comic tragedy, yet there are few laughs to pierce the blanket of gloom in this bleak and rather one-sided vision of life in modern England.
In addition, at 503 pages, it is overlong, slow to start and bogged down with detail and a confusing rash of characters. But then, who would dare to edit the most successful author in the world?
Especially when she is on a mission to portray the poor underclasses as plucky but blighted, and the British middle classes as a lumpen mass of the mad and the bad.