March is the anniversary of the lockdown. Below is a selection of books that deal with life living in plagues, real or imagined
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This 2014 novel is probably the most famous book about the aftermath of disease, in a world that cannot cope with what has befallen it. The story follows a traveling Shakespeare troupe that performs in what is left of the United States after it is ravaged by the mysterious Georgia Flu. Despite the dangers faced by the troupe, the book places the importance of art as the foundation of life.
Severance by Ling Ma
If Station Eleven is about life after the event, Severance looks at the world breaking down right as it happens. Seen through the eyes of Candace, a young, millennial worker who is originally from Fuzhou, China. Now living and working in New York, she learns to navigate through a city gripped with fever and fear. The book is a critique of the capitalist condition despite the looming specter of death—an idea that we can all relate to given the current global situation.
Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell
Hamnet was a real, existing boy who died in 1956. The book takes a fictional look at his life and death during the Black Plague, and the effects on his family: his sisters and his mother, Agnes, an outsider in society, and his father, an unnamed Latin tutor who becomes a celebrated playwright and who eventually wrote the world’s most famous play, Hamlet. No one quite knows if the connection is significant, but the book is a shimmering exploration of love, family, and the power of grief to inspire great, unforgettable works of art.
The Pandemic Century: A History of Global Contagion by Mark Honigsbaum
The one non-fiction book in this list, The Pandemic Century was published in 2019 and looked at eight diseases: from the less known like Parrot Fever to the more well-known like AIDS, SARS and in the 2020 update, includes a chapter on COVID-19. It takes a scientific and sociological view at disease outbreaks: why and how they happened and how authorities contained them (in the case of COVID-19: if only we were so lucky). The scientific jargon might be overwhelming for some but the work will still leave you with a breadth of interesting knowledge.