Hannah Smith investigates whether these literary sensations really did predict the pandemic.
“There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” In his 1947 work The Plague, Albert Camus perfectly explains the rather unsurprising reaction of people in such an event as a pandemic. During lockdown, an overwhelming amount of media attention has surrounded the novels that supposedly predicted the Covid-19 pandemic, with one particular book being quoted unceasingly across social media. Dean Koontz’s The Eyes of Darkness, published in 1981, has left us in awe due to the reputed resemblance between the novel’s contents and the current global situation.
The obsession with so-called predictive novels has rather mirrored the health crisis, sweeping across all social media platforms. Koontz’s book surrounds the premise of a killer virus, named “Wuhan-400”, that emerges from China and has a “kill-rate” of 100%. Although on the surface there does appear to be a plausible resemblance between the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic and the virus described in the novel, it doesn’t take long to recognise some quite significant differences: for example, the aforementioned “kill-rate” to which Covid-19 bears no resemblance at all. Furthermore, Koontz’s fictional virus Wuhan-400 “can’t survive outside a living human body for longer than a minute”, again showing quite stark differences when compared with Covid-19, a virus which has been said to survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. Realistically, there seem to be very few similarities between the virus presented in Koontz’s novel and the Covid-19 pandemic we are currently experiencing.
If a book is to accurately be described as predictive, its contents would surely need to be almost comprehensively accurate. If that is not the case, as with Koontz’s novel, then the resemblance between the book and real-world events can certainly only be viewed as an unfortunate coincidence, as incidents like this (so sagely put by Camus) are not as rare as some might like to believe.
Another example of a novel that has recently been suggested to be predictive is Albert Camus’ magnum opus, The Plague. Camus’ book tells the story of the city of Oran and of the plague that it’s hit by, a plot which somewhat resembles the inception of the Covid-19 crisis mainly in the sense that figures of authority largely ignored initial warning signs. One quote from the novel reads: “Are our city fathers aware that the decaying bodies of these rodents constitute a grave danger to the population?” Although rodents were not a warning sign of Covid-19, there are indisputable parallels with the idea of those in power failing to act before the situation spiralled out of control.
When questioning whether a book is predictive, we must not only consider the novel itself, but also the wonders that hindsight can do. It is true that our 2019 selves would never have imagined, a year on, to be living in a world that has fallen to the power of an invisible enemy. The idea of a global pandemic was unimaginable in a world more connected than ever, suddenly turned isolated and socially distant. The notion of predictive novels is more telling of the human condition; that many would believe we could somehow have the God-like power to predict the future, or that vaguely anticipating this event is worthy of such praise when disease epidemics are more common than many would like to think. The thought of the pandemic having been foreseen makes our current situation easier to digest by providing a sense of control. In truth, the belief in humanity having the power to predict something that last year most couldn’t have imagined is a prime example of the all-too-enduring arrogance of a species unable to accept its own insignificance.