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Reading For The Pandemic

Tony Canavan offers a reading list that’s not for the faint hearted!

As with other events and episodes that provoke fear and worry, readers throughout the world are turning to books for insight and consolation. The current Covid-19 pandemic has seen many people turn to books about plagues and similar tribulations. In Japan, a translation of Albert Camus’s The Plague has sold more than one million copies since the outbreak of Covid-19.

Closer to home, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), his account of the bubonic plague rampaging through London in 1665, has been recommended by many columnists and seen a resurgence of readers in recent weeks. Defoe’s novel, based in part on his own family’s experiences, resonates today with his account of fear, rumour mongering and quack cures.

Other novels that have seen a revival of interest include  Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1824). Written in three volumes, it is begins in the year 2073 and concludes in 2100 and tells the story of Lionel Verney, the last man of the title, in a world ravaged by a plague. A more recent book, Station Eleven (2014), by Emily St John Mandel has also seen renewed interest. Her novel is set in the Great Lakes area of America after the world’s population has been devastated by a swine flu pandemic, known as the “Georgia Flu”.

A cult classic (and favourite of mine) which suits the mood of the times is I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson. It too is a ‘last man’ story. Robert Neville is the only survivor of a plague that has turned most of the world’s population into vampires. It is a very influential book which laid down some of the basic concepts in modern zombie and vampire literature as well as bringing to the fore the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. The novel was adapted into the films The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007).

Unfortunately most of these books have a very bleak vision for the future of a world gripped by a pandemic and so perhaps should be avoided by the faint hearted.

Tony Canavan