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J. K. Rowling's new book: Gritty and darkly humorous

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Rowling said the book's focus on teenagers, the heart of Pagford and of the novel, was not a million miles from her previous work — although these troubled and profane youngsters are "not Harry, Ron and Hermione."

"They are very different teenagers," Rowling said. "They are contemporary teenagers."

The book's sex and swearing have drawn the most comment so far — some audience members were startled to hear the F-word pass Rowling's lips during Thursday's reading. But the presence of death is perhaps the book's most adult element, and one that loomed over Harry Potter's world, too.

"Death obsesses me," Rowling said. "I can't understand why it doesn't obsess everyone. Think it does. I'm just a little more 'out.'"

Five years after the last Potter book appeared, Rowling remains the world's most successful living writer. The lines were shorter and the wizard costumes missing, but "The Casual Vacancy" appeared to some of the same fanfare that greeted each Potter tome, with stores wheeling out crates of the books precisely at 8 a.m. as part of a finely honed marketing strategy.

And Rowling retains the intense loyalty of Potter fans. In contrast to the tight security that preceded the book's release, the atmosphere at Thursday' reading was warm; it felt like a reunion. Several audience members asked Potter-related questions, which Rowling answered at length. One young man, wearing a "Rowling is our Queen" T-shirt, asked if her could give her a present. Rowling accepted it graciously.

Many in the crowd were young adults who had grown up on Harry Potter and we keen to follow her wherever she wanted to go.

"She's been such an inspiration to everyone," said 18-year-old university student Milly Anderson. "She's not just influenced people's childhoods — she's molded them."

Anderson said she was loving "The Casual Vacancy" — once she'd got over the change from stories of the boy wizard and his Hogwarts chums.

"There's swearing and sex," she said. "It's a bit of a shock."

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