In March, we introduced a new service: the Reading Doctor. Read more about Dr Louise here. And do feel free to request further prescriptions, as needed!
Prescription #21: Which novels explore the theme of plague in other times and places?
Plagues, in other times, other places
Plagues, pandemics, infestations and scourges ravage our literature, too. Whether Biblical in scale, global or domestic, they can disrupt and reset a nation, a society, a hierarchy, a family and, not least, a plot line.
·The 14th century is the setting for James Meek’s To Calais, in Ordinary Time, in which a disparate group of travellers are headed for France, only to be met by the Black Death as it arrives from Europe.
·Cholera is a metaphor for moral corruption in Death in Venice, the novella by Thomas Mann, in which a writer becomes obsessed with a beautiful young man.
·A flu pandemic brings about the rapid collapse of civilisation in Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, leaving just a dedicated few who risk all to keep alive the remnants of art and humanity.
·Gabriel Garcia Márquez is best known for his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, which plays upon the meaning in Spanish of the word cólera – which includes passion, rage and ire (like the English word choleric) – to ask whether love is helped or hindered by extreme passion.
·William Shakespeare’s son is a victim of the bubonic plague in Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet, despite the best remedies of the day.
·Only adults are the victims of a deadly disease called “la Rossa” which strikes upon the onset of puberty, in Niccolò Ammaniti’s YA thriller Anna, set in a feral Sicily which is run by children.
·People all over the world are struck blind by an apparent meteor shower in John Wyndham’s classic The Day of the Triffids, allowing a bio-engineered species of aggressive, carnivorous plants to take over.
·Samuel Pepys kept a detailed diary for a decade, 1660-1669, chronicling the defining events, both large and small, of Restoration London: plague, fire, and toothache, too.
·The Velveteen Rabbit is a possible vector for the transmission of scarlet fever in Margery Williams’ much-loved children’s book about the transformative power of love.
·A genetically engineered plague devastates humanity in Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood’s cautionary tale about the possible effects of technology.