RTL Today – Best work to date ?: First wave of pandemic novels arrives at the Frankfurt Motor Show
This week’s oldest and largest Frankfurt Book Fair in the world brings with it the first wave of pandemic novels. But are readers ready to relive the coronavirus and lockdown life through fictional characters?
Some of the best-known writers have stories of the pandemic going on, with Jodi Picoult finding inspiration in a tourist stranded abroad, while Margaret Atwood teams up with Dave Eggers and John Grisham on a “collaborative novel” about them. Manhattan residents thrown together by containment.
“We, members of the human race, have gone through a very difficult time here on planet Earth, and it is not over yet,” Atwood told the Frankfurt fair by video link on Tuesday.
“Already writers have begun to testify,” said the Canadian author, who edits the novel “Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering”, which is scheduled for release in 2022.
Picoult’s latest title, whose international bestsellers include “The Pact” and “My Sister’s Keeper”, will be released next month and will be one of the first pandemic books by a great novelist to hit stores.
Picoult said she wrote “Wish You Were Here” as a way to “make sense of 2020”.
“Artists are supposed to find meaning in things we don’t understand and a global pandemic qualifies,” the American writer told AFP via email.
Although fewer international publishers and authors are attending the fair this year due to the pandemic, German author John von Dueffel will be in Frankfurt on Friday to speak to the public about his Covid-inspired novel.
In “The Angry and The Guilty”, a woman is to be quarantined as the family patriarch is dying.
– ‘Skeptical’ –
Not everyone is convinced that readers will embrace these early pandemic-themed novels.
Renowned German literary critic Denis Scheck has cautioned against “rushing” these stories, saying it takes highly skilled writers to meaningfully capture historical events in real time.
In the past, some of the best writings on great tragedies did not appear until years, if not decades, after the fact, he said, as was the case with the fiction of 9/11, for example.
Scheck noted that many readers have instead turned to classics like “The Plague” by Albert Camus, which has taken on new significance in the age of Covid.
“Literature can teach us to die,” Scheck said.
He praised German author Juli Zeh’s recent novel “Ueber Menschen” (About People) as an example of a well-done coronavirus novel.
It tells the story of a woman who escapes the city for rural life, leaving behind a partner who becomes more and more in control as restrictions on coronaviruses tighten.
“She’s an author who reacts very quickly to current events and does it well,” said Scheck.
But overall, “I’m skeptical,” he added. “I think we’ll have to wait another 10 or 20 years.”
– Treat bereavement –
For American author Hilma Wolitzer, mother of renowned novelist Meg Wolitzer, waiting was not an option.
The 91-year-old lost her husband to Covid-19 last year and was herself hospitalized with the virus.
Putting pen to paper “was a way of dealing with mourning, when all the usual mourning rituals, such as funerals and the company of family and friends, were denied to me,” she told me. ‘AFP by email.
The resulting story is the final chapter of her latest book “Today a Woman Gone Mad at the Supermarket,” a collection of stories featuring recurring characters, some of which were first published in the 1960s.
“My story is really about a long marriage – its many joys and struggles – which ends with the pandemic, so I hope people read it for both pleasure and consolation, as they would for no any work of fiction, ”she said.
Picoult said readers “will have to decide for themselves when they are ready to read about Covid in fiction.”
“We have to process what we have learned about ourselves over the past 18 months,” she said.
“If my book can do it for one person, I will consider it a success.”