Many bookshops will be opening early tomorrow to cope with the demand for what, in the way of these things, has been called the publishing event of the year. The queues are unlikely to be on the scale of those for the latest iPhone (get a life, people!), or even the last Harry Potter, but a new work of fiction by J K Rowling will be enough to mobilise book buyers in great numbers.
The pre-release hype has probably made sure of that: this is Ms Rowling's first piece of adult fiction, and the publishers have kept copies of The Casual Vacancy under lock and key, allowing reviewers to read the book only under supervision and then after signing a strict non-disclosure agreement. The normally reclusive Ms Rowling has subjected herself to some hand-picked interviews in Britain and America, while a stage appearance in London tomorrow will be streamed live on the internet.
What we know is this: the book is set in a small English village, and is a satire on local politics, class and modern manners. What we don't know is whether it's any good or not. And I'm afraid I can't give you a clue. Not because I've been sworn to secrecy, but because I simply don't know how good Ms Rowling is at writing.
She's sold 450 million copies of her Harry Potter series, but not having an interest in magical realism, nor indeed being a child, I've not read a single one of them. I've never found this to be a shortfall in my cultural experience, but then again, I'm the man who really hasn't seen Star Wars or even an episode of EastEnders. I am, however, keenly anticipating this offering.
I've always liked the sound of Ms Rowling – she espouses the cause of social justice, and is prepared to walk the walk by paying her full whack of taxes, and using her multi-millions to philanthropic effect. And she seems to have tapped into the zeitgest with this novel. In fact and fiction, the subject of class is – and probably always has been – one of the topics du jour, whether we're being revolted by the public schoolboy Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell calling policemen "plebs" (I wasn't aware people still used a word I last heard in the playground) or charmed by the aristos of Downton Abbey, who thought everyone else was a pleb but were too well-mannered to say so.
The plot of The Casual Vacancy is centred on a local election, and portrays the snobbery and pretensions of residents of the fictional village of Pagford. Before the book has been released, however, Ms Rowling has got into trouble. In interviews, she said she borrowed heavily from her own experience for the novel's narrative, and has pointed to her unhappiness growing up in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill.
Even though, obviously, they haven't read the book, inhabitants of Tutshill have worked themselves up into a lather in case anyone should identify their community as a repository of such middle-class vices. Ms Rowling must be very upset. The last thing she needs at this time is any more publicity.