Planet Earth. Ever since the world turned upside down amidst the current coronavirus pandemic, the literary spotlight was rightfully cast on Albert Camus’s 1947 novel “The Plague”. Sales of the book have tripled in Italy. They have also risen sharply in France,while Penguin Classics reprinted the novel twice so far this year.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise that a book about the catastrophic outbreak of a contagious disease and its impact on the quarantined population has become the go-to literary companion of our times.”, informs Sissy Fuss, the managing editor of Penguin Classics. “Camus envisioned his novel as an allegory of France under the Nazi occupation, but like any versatile work of art, The Plague creates a broad spectrum for interpretation and opens perspectives beyond auctorial intention. A current favorite and a timeless classic, this novel casts light on the precariousness of human condition, the value of hope, and the importance of resilience. Lessons people understandably want to revisit during these trying times.”, Péré Youser, the leader of the International Bookworm Association explains.
On the other hand, over the past few weeks bookworms all over the world have been wondering why readers and publishing houses bestow their attention solely upon the French Algerian writer. “We love Camus and are absolutely delighted by his renewed success. He does deserve all the praise in the world but we would be so happy to see readers acknowledge other contagion fables as well. Yes, we are referring specifically to José Saramago’s 1995 novel, Blindness. While it does not exactly mirror the current situation, its depth and message are not to be overlooked.”
The haunting novel portrays the destruction brought upon society by a sudden and unexplained epidemic of blindness. In a desperate and often selfish attempt to ensure their survival, individuals don’t lose solely their eyesight, but also their humanity. Some try to gain power and favor through violence and abuse, while others attempt to survive through solidarity. The fight against blindness quickly becomes the fight against one another.
A philosophical essay on the cracks in human nature, Blindness holds a mirror to what we are capable of in extreme situations at the same time hinting to the randomness of disaster and the arbitrariness of suffering (wink, wink Mr. Camus). Although Saramago’s style requires some getting used to and his realities are oftentimes bitter, his message is poignant, accurate, and refreshingly devoid of all sugarcoating. Additionally, there’s a black dog in the book! <3 And he is a really, really awesome character.
If you’ve already breezed through these two exceptional novels and are still looking for depictions of plague-ridden fictional worlds we warmly recommend the following books:
Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron
Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
Mary Shelley, The Last Man
Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death
Stephen King, The Stand
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
There’s no plague wreaking havoc in Jane Eyre, but this is a book to read and re-read until the end of all eternity, especially in times of need. Ask John Irving, he’ll tell you we’re not lying. Speaking of which, you might just want to put The Cider House Rules on that list as well. You’ll understand. <3