The problem with the pandemic conspiracy

“I had no particular ambition to write about the pandemic, but it was like a giant tree trunk that fell my way,” said Ian McEwan, whose upcoming novel, “Lessons,” follows a 1940s British man in his twilight years. in 2021, while living alone in London during confinement, looking back on his life. “It will be in literary novels simply because there’s no getting around it, if you’re writing a socially realistic novel.”

Anne Tyler’s “French Braid,” out next month, follows a Baltimore family from the late 1950s to the upheaval of 2020, when a retired couple find unexpected joy after their adult son and granddaughter. sons came to live with them to get out of the pandemic. Nell Freudenberger’s ongoing novel, tentatively titled ‘The Limits’, explores the feelings of dread and uncertainty the virus has unleashed, and features a teenager struggling to balance remote learning with caring. of a child, a biologist pissed off about climate change and a doctor who feels helpless as he treats Covid patients.

In Isabel Allende’s “Violeta”, the narrator’s life is punctuated by two pandemics, the Spanish flu and the coronavirus, a “strange symmetry” she reflects on as she dies in isolation. “The experience of the entire planet being frozen in place by a virus is so extraordinary that I’m sure it will be used extensively in literature,” Ms Allende said in an email. “It’s one of those events that mark an era.”

There has been no shortage of pandemic-themed content, from TV shows and documentaries to long-form non-fiction, poetry and short stories. But novels often take longer to materialize, and the first wave of pandemic-influenced literary fiction comes at a nebulous time, when the virus has started to feel both mundane and insurmountable, and it’s unclear when. the crisis will end, making it an unwieldy time. topic for fiction writers.

“You couldn’t have the big coronavirus novel yet, because we don’t yet know how that story ends,” said writer and critic Daniel Mendelsohn.

As the first trickle of Covid-centric novels began last year, some critics wondered if the pandemic could produce any worthwhile literature. “I’m a little scared of the onslaught of Covid-19 fiction heading our way in the years to come,” critic Sam Sacks wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

Last November, when English author Sarah Moss published her novel ‘The Fell’ – about a woman who defies a mandatory quarantine order after being exposed to Covid – a handful of UK critics slammed it for recreating the grueling experience of lockdown.

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