Lawrence Wright: “Now, as I read the papers and watch the news, I have that same unsettled sensation of revisiting scenes that I have already written.”

From a New York Times story, by Lawrence Wright, about his new novel  The End of October and its parallels to the current coronavirus pandemic:

My new novel, “The End of October,” which comes out next month, is a work of imagination. The book is not prophecy, but its appearance in the middle of the worst pandemic in living memory is not entirely coincidental either. It began with a simple question from the filmmaker Ridley Scott, who had read Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic 2006 novel “The Road” and asked me, “What happened?” How could human civilization become so broken? How could we fail to preserve the institutions and social order that define us when we are confronted with something unexpected—a catastrophe that in retrospect seems all but inevitable?

This is not the outcome I anticipate for the current coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. In writing my book, however, I’ve come to appreciate that we would be naïve and prideful to believe we have escaped the snares of disease that nature is constantly devising. . . .

Now, as I read the papers and watch the news, I have that same unsettled sensation of revisiting scenes that I have already written. I’m constantly judging what I got right and what I missed entirely. For instance, quarantine plays a big role in my novel; the virus breaks out during the hajj, and Mecca, with three million pilgrims, is sealed off. I worried that these scenes would come off as unrealistic—until China put 11 million people in Wuhan on lockdown. Now governments around the world are trying to enforce similar draconian measures.

What may seem like prophecy is actually the fruit of research. As a writer, I’ve always been more surprised by reality than by imagination, so I try to hew to science, history and human experience. In both “The Siege” and “The End of October,” I examined what had happened in similar episodes in the past. I spoke to experts who could guide me to create a plausible narrative—from facts that would resonate with the fiction on the screen and on the page. . . .

In my novel, I chose to make influenza the central character. The disease remains unconquered, killing tens of thousands of Americans every year, and hundreds of thousands in the rest of the world. . . .In the modern era, with billions of people traveling, meeting and shopping, how quickly would such a disease progress? How many would die? What would happen to our economy, our government, our civilization? How long would it take to develop a vaccine or find a cure? And what would it take to do so?

I was fortunate in writing “The End of October” to have been able to consult some of the ingenious and courageous scientists and health care workers who are now at the front lines of fighting the very real virus that threatens us today. It is to them that I have dedicated my book.

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