Now, don’t get me wrong. Self-isolation sounds like a dream. Two whole weeks to catch up with TV and reading. It would be delightful if it wasn’t so serious. I’ve been thinking a bit about my comfort reads, and my non-comfort reads, and figured I would share them with you in a series of posts.
For this instalment, let’s talk about post-apocalyptic pandemic novels. No. Really.
1. The Stand, by Stephen King
Don’t, like, judge me but. The Stand by Stephen King is one of my ultimate comfort reads. Yes, I am very much aware that it’s about a pandemic leading to the breakdown of society and might be a little on the nose right now. Weighing in at over 800 pages, I’ve always found it an absorbing read, demonstrating the best, the worst and the weirdest of people, with a thread of fantasy right through it.
In The Stand, the pandemic originates from a laboratory-brewed virus and, in the manner of most good apocalyptic novels, it is released into the wider world to dire consequences. The survivors fall, broadly speaking, into good guys and bad guys, with the good guys rallying around Mother Abagail, and the bad guys flocking to Randall Flagg, the personification of evil.
I first encountered it when I saw some of the original mini-series, starring Molly Ringwald, Gary Sinise and Rob Lowe, amongst other (yes, that cast absolutely dates it to the mid-nineties).
As the author himself has said, the virus in The Stand is considerably worse than COVID19, but I understand if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea right now.
2. Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig
Published in 2019, Wanderers is another weighty tome of 800 or so pages, and unputdownable. I read it in the inside of a day, while on holiday in Greece, but when all you have to do is lie around beside a pool (a very different sort of voluntary self-isolation), devouring books is easy.
This is a remarkable book and, even six months ago, it seemed startlingly realistic, despite some rather futuristic science (or is it?). The premise is that, one day, a young woman appears to start sleepwalking across America. As the flock builds, acquiring more and more walkers, they are protected by their loved one (shepherds). In the background, there are some stunning storylines, such as that of a mysterious illness, a rock star with a secret and a preacher, who plays right into the hands of some terrifying far-right extremists.
There are reasons it has been compared to The Stand but it also stands (lol) on its own merits, with a fantastic plot and one of those endings that makes you breathe shiiiiit into your poolside cocktail (or your self-isolation cup of tea).
3. The Next Big One, by Derek Des Anges
Set in the UK, The Next Big One envisages a world in which an Ebola-like virus takes hold. We follow journalism student, Ben Martin, as he is assigned to investigate KBV. What may have been a relatively straightforward assignment lurches from conspiracy to conspiracy, with coverups and danger unrelated to the virus.
Another compelling read, a real strength of this book is how well-researched the science is, and how fantastic the characters are. They’re realistic in their strengths and their weaknesses, and they are diverse as hell. There’s romance, and the real haemorrhagic fever are the friends that Ben makes (or keeps!) along the way.
It takes real skill to write realistic characters, flaws and all, who you still want to root for, and Des Anges very much succeeds.
Yes, this is certainly pretty heavy material but there is humour and realism throughout. I recall staying in the pub long after I’d finished my Sunday roast just so I could finish it without the tedious interruption of my walk home.
I’m all too aware that I started with the grimmest genre of books so stay tuned for my future posts which will feature romance, hockey romance, sci-fi and more.
Do you have any post-apocalyptic novels to recommend? Head along to our Twitter account and let us know!
And remember, boys and girls and babes: Wash. Your. Hands.