While in real life, we may all be sick of the pandemic, in literature it can be a good read. Here are two books I read in the last 12 months that both centre around a pandemic. One was written before Covid hit, and one was written after. They are quite different, and both impact the world to a much greater extent than Covid did. These ones were potential extinction-event level viruses. Both very different. Both books equally fascinating.
The End of Men – Christina Sweeny-Baird
While this book was published after Covid hit, it was written as a thought experiment before. And there is a note by the author at the beginning of the book on how surreal it is that she wrote a book about a global virus, just before one occurred. There were two main distinctions between Covid and the Plague virus from this book: the Plague has a much higher fatality rate than Covid, and it only kills men. Women can be carriers, and they are asymptomatic, so they don’t know they have it or are passing it on to their husbands, brothers, sons, until they are sick. It’s a race to find a vaccine before mankind comes to an end. There is also the consequences of the resulting world with a lack of men. All very interesting.
One might think that a book about a virus that only kills men would be filled of feminism, and hatred on men. But that is not the case. There are heartbroken women who have lost sons and husbands, women who are resentful of friends who had daughters, people isolating themselves to the extreme to avoid the virus or to save their husband/son. But yes, there is the odd feminist message coming through. My favourite would have to be the thoughts of one not-very-likeable woman who has obviously encountered the very real difficulties of being a woman in science. Yes, she’s working to find a vaccine, but she also appreciates the irony…
I’ve been training virologists for years and I’ve always prioritised the hiring of women in my department. Despite many accusations to the contrary, I’ve never prioritised diversity over ability. I’ve always had a simple policy. The best female applicant gets the job. Invariably, she’s as good as, if not better than, the best male applicant. As a community, the scientific world has sexism running through it like grey swirls in marble. It’s deeply woven into the fabric of labs, university departments, hiring panels, boards determining tenure. And guess what? The preponderance of senior male scientists and majority-male teams, specifically in virology, was a disaster when the Plague came so who’s going to be right in the end? Me. I am.
It’s going to be a bit less satisfying being right when my former enemies are almost all dead. But still, some satisfaction will no doubt shine through.Lisa – Day 672
I thought the premise was executed well, and it’s an enjoyable and though-provoking read.
Last One at the Party – Bethany Clift
This book was written after Covid, and it even references Covid in the narrative, commenting on how they “learnt from Covid” when it came to shutting down borders and having lockdowns, etc. Unfortunately for the people in this book, this virus makes Covid look like the common cold…
A virus sweeps rapidly across the globe, killing within 6 days of symptom onset. It’s 100% fatal. You don’t get sick. Somehow, you’re immune. Are you the last person alive? Maybe. What would you do? How would you handle being on your own? Electricity doesn’t last long once no one is around to run the stations. How would you make your way in this new world? Would you build a new life, or seek to end it?
If you read this book, you’ll find yourself asking yourself these questions and imagining what you would do. I’m pretty sure I would handle it better than the woman in this book. But then again, I know who I am, I like who I am, and I’m not struggling with years of depression.
I won’t say the character in this book is likeable – she’s not. But as you progress, you get to understand her more and why she may have reacted to different situations the way she did. While the book is a little bit like watching a car crash in slow motion, it keeps drawing you back. I’d definitely recommend it. If for no other reason than that the internal reflection that is sparked every time you pick it up is incredibly interesting.
Plus, who could resist a book with just an awesome beginning:
Those are the very last words that I spoke to another living person.
If I had known that they would be my last, I would have chosen them a bit more carefully.
Something erudite, with a bit more wit.