The Plague has sold more than one million copies since the outbreak. Daniel Defoe’s account of the bubonic plague’s grip on London in 1665, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), has received renewed attention, as has Mary Shelley’s contagion novel The Last Man (1824), and Station Eleven (2014), by Emily St John Mandel.
What unites these novels, however, is a deficit of optimism likely to disturb rather than calm an already anxious reader. Collectively possessed of historical, practical and philosophical acuity as they are, they might not be ideal sources of reassurance. A more comforting read that still addresses our present condition, Xavier de Maistre’s 1794 fiction Voyage autour de ma chambre (A Journey Round My Room) is a curious and oddly soothing reading experience.