Thursday, July 16, 2020

The End of October by Lawrence Wright

OK, a little commentary on blogging, first. I disappeared briefly because I was considering giving up blogging but chose not to say I was leaving for good, just in case. I mean, I have to write. I just didn't know if I needed to keep writing about books, if that makes sense. And, sure enough, I decided I'm not done. I need to write about books, at least occasionally. The End of October is really the only book that I've felt like I really needed to talk about. A week has passed since completion, but I still have thoughts and would love to hear what anyone else thinks. I have a few ARCs left but not many, so if I don't mention receiving a book from a publisher, you can assume it's owned or borrowed, from now on.

The End of October by Lawrence Wright is a pandemic novel. When I first started reading it, I referred to it (on Instagram) as "dystopian" but then I started rethinking that and decided it's really a medical thriller, although things fall apart and society becomes a bit dystopian because of the illness. And, while I think it's a bit too long and occasionally dives into unnecessary detail, it still managed to be a page-turner, most of the time. There are some slow bits.

When Dr. Henry Parsons hears that there's been an outbreak of a mysterious illness in Indonesia, he goes there to investigate, telling his family that he'll be home in time for his son's birthday. Instead, he finds a novel virus (yes, much like our current virus situation) that has been contained to an encampment. But, shortly after, the virus begins to spread and one of the people who has been exposed hops on a plane to Saudi Arabia for his once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage, the Hajj, to Mecca. Henry follows to try to contain the disease. There, the virus takes hold with a vengeance and Henry is stuck for months, once the country is locked down.

OK, so hmm. I had so many thoughts about this book. Henry works for the CDC and I had a bit of a problem with the major plot point of Henry being stuck in a foreign country for two reasons:

1) The author repeatedly says Henry is very, very important - I don't think I would have believed an important American government official would be left stranded in another country, anyway, but . . .

2) Recent events show that it's possible to get out of a locked-down country. In fact, a friend's daughter was stuck in Peru when the country locked down. My friend had to make a lot of phone calls to get help from local government, who assisted her in acquiring the right documents and advised her on where to have her daughter go and when. I don't know if the US government charged my friend to get her daughter home but they did send at least one plane to pick up American citizens who had been stranded and wanted to return home (apparently, you could stay or go; it was up to the stranded individual).

So, that bugged me. But, the other thing that drove me crazy was how Henry was portrayed as heroic and a wonderful husband, father, and lover, blah, blah, but he definitely put his job ahead of the family. Having been the wife of someone who travels constantly and has put his job first, sorry, I could not see Henry's choices as heroic.

Having said all that, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those who enjoy Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and whoever else writes medical thrillers (I haven't read one for a while, so I don't know who the current shining stars may be), if only for the ability to compare the book to current events.

The virus in The End of October is different than Covid-19. It's a hemorrhagic virus (eww) like Ebola and it's much more deadly. During the time Henry is stuck in another country, the US is being ravaged by the disease and it's so easily transmissible and deadly that it becomes difficult to obtain food and other necessities. At one point, the electricity goes off and stays off for days.

Anyway, sometimes it can be a bit gruesome but that kind of goes with the territory when you're talking medical thrillers. I didn't rate it at Goodreads and I still don't know how to rate the book. I liked it but didn't love it. I thought it was a pretty quick read but a bit overlong. I probably would not read it a second time. Besides finding Henry a bit too heroic, I thought he was a little distant and difficult to relate to or even like; he's a bit gruff. There are also some weird little details, like Henry losing a cane (he's a little damaged from childhood illness) and not even trying to acquire another one. Either you need it or you don't, right? I just thought that was bizarre. While in Indonesia, he probably could have easily found a branch to whittle into shape but he didn't even try to locate a substitute.

So . . . this review and the last were slightly more casual and I plan to continue that way. I don't want to spent an inordinate amount of time on the computer and am planning to shut down my social media till after the election, soon (except Instagram). Most of my posts will probably be more Instagram-like, with a nice photo of the book and minimal description. I haven't decided whether or not to bother with Monday Malarkey and Fiona Friday. Maybe I'll just post a cat photo when I've got one that I want to preserve? We'll see. I'm feeling my way, right now. Change is good.

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  1. I'm glad to see you here again. I haven't yet been able to bring myself to read any "pandemic" books, nor watch similar films- it just feels too close to home still...

    1. Thanks!

      I can understand that, Jeane. I often seek out pandemic novels (and nonfiction about emerging diseases), so it didn't feel like any big deal to me but I can see why one might want to avoid them, right now. My friend Amy found this one a little too unsettling. To me, it just felt like fiction. I didn't think it hit too close to home. There are definitely some similarities, though!

  2. This book has the same virus as the one in the movie Outbreak. I suppose if people were bleeding out people would take this virus of ours more seriously but thank God it's not a virus like that. I really wanted to read pandemic books when this all started. I do not know why. It's morbid really. But now? I do not. I am so sick of the whole thing. I need books to take me somewhere else.

    1. It's similar because it's a hemorrhagic virus, yep. I don't know about whether or not people would take it more seriously. Remember the gal who got on a plane after being exposed to Ebola because she didn't want to put off her wedding? The selfishness and the conspiracy theories were definitely still present.

      It's not morbid to read about pandemics. It's interesting to find out how they spread, how they were handled, how people reacted to the threat. That's what I'm interested in, the sort-of mystery aspect of a pandemic. There's a bit of detective work to figuring out the origin of a new disease and I've always found that fascinating. But, you need to read what *you're* happy reading. I would not read them exclusively; I'm a very eclectic reader. But, I'm still looking forward to John Barry's book about the Spanish Flu, so there's more ahead for me. :)


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