I raced through Lawrence Wright’s pandemic novel in two days. It’s sweeping, cinematic, smart and even funny at times. On one level it’s the story of how a modern pandemic comes into existence and rapidly spreads, leaving sickness, death, unemployment, and economic chaos in it’s wake. But on another level it’s a love story about a man and his family.
Wright completed his novel before COVID-19 was a thing, and the book is eerie and unnerving to read. So much is familiar, from mask mandates to the need for ventilators. The virus in the novel isn’t exactly the same as our current scourge but it’s similar enough. Experts have told us this was more than a possibility; more like a matter of time before humanity got hit with another global pandemic. And here we are.
It’s a scary read, and not just because the fictional virus is more deadly than ours. They also have a growing conflict in the Middle East to contend with as well as Russia taking down our grid – internet, electricity, cell phones. It’s a nightmare I hope never to experience in real life.
The hero of the story is Dr. Henry Parsons, former lead investigator during the Ebola crisis. I admit I pictured him as Dr. Fauci in my mind 🙂 He’s committed, exceptionally intelligent, and loyal. He gets sent to the scene of an outbreak that seems to have died down, but something makes him think it might be something worse. And boy was he right.
The virus takes hold during the haij – the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. The scenes in Mecca are absolutely cinematic – you can see everything perfectly in your mind’s eye: the pilgrims, the desert, the temples. Wright is an excellent, detailed, and descriptive writer. He’s good at the personal scenes between scientists and family, and good at the technical stuff as well. Wright won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2006 book The Looming Tower about the rise of Al-Qaeda leading to the 9-11 attacks. (It was made into a mini- series shown on Hulu in 2018).
This is a lengthy book, 378 pages. But it’s a compelling page-turner so you don’t feel like your slogging through. If you have the stomach for it now, I definitely recommend The End of October. If not, I understand. But do me a favor? Keep wearing your mask until our real crisis is over.