It is an important day for Britain. Since the abrupt collapse of our manufacturing base, our economy depends heavily upon fictional characters. Together, Lara Croft, James Bond, The Teletubbies, Simon Cowell, and Harry Potter now account for 43 percent of GDP. From time to time, J K Rowling dials 141, calls Buckingham Palace, and mutters quietly: “I cahn buy an’ sell you any time, Frau Frumpy. Evvyfink norf o’ the border’s mine. Stick to your own manor, darlin’—or you might wake up wiv the ‘ead of a corgi on Phil-the-Greek’s side of the bed. Kna’ ‘at I mean?”
I’m at British Bookshops And Sussex Stationers buying some stationery. [If you followed that link then note well that this is the sort of company that takes its existing Website down while a new one is built. It’ll be relevant later.] Inside it’s a bit tense. Even before lunchtime, they have sold out of The New Book, but, in plain view at the back, is a table laden with pre-ordered and bagged copies of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, lined up in rows and waiting to be collected. There are at least two families within a few square metres of me wandering around asking after it. One of them includes a boy wearing a cape and NHS specs.
The Potter craze mystifies me. I’m not scared of big books—last week I finished a 900-page Indian epic—but Rowling’s stuff leaves me cold for two reasons: it bores me and it manages to both conform to a genre template and at the same time ignore the rules that make that template satisfying, to no artistic end. I visited Wikipedia to find out how it finishes and, sure enough, Rowling resolves her plot difficulties by pulling something out of her bottom again. [Not entirely true this time: see comment from a Potterite, below.] I am, therefore, not even thinking about buying a copy and instead am crouched down next to one of the service desks, staying out of trouble, reading about the invention of the piano.
Standing behind me is a nihce middle-aged Home Counties woman with Victoria Beckham sunglasses and hair the colour of freshly-stripped copper loudspeaker cable. She is explaining, with admirable patience, to the young male shop assistant that a work of popular fiction by “Margaret Kennedy” [I can’t remember the actual name, but she could] has just come out in hardback and wondering if he might be able to check to see whether or not they have it in stock.
“You do have all your books on your computer, don’t you?” she asks.
“Yes, we do,” he begins, “but we can’t search them by author name.”
I bury my face in my hands.