Plague, by Lisa Hinsley

I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 9 December 2013.

Plague

Lisa Hinsley’s Plague is a powerfully affecting novella. Aside from the very end, every scene takes place within the boarded up confines of a suburban English home. Inside, Liz cares for first her son, then her husband, as they succumb to an extremely virulent form of the resurrected bubonic plague. Hinsley writes in her afterword that she was inspired to write this book when her husband wondered what ever happened to the plague. The bubonic plague was responsible for millions of deaths in several pandemics yet, in the last hundred plus years, it’s a rarely contracted disease. What if it came back? What if it came back with the same force that killed two-thirds of the population again? What if it came back with even more killing power?

I didn’t have those questions on my mind when I started to read Plague, but I certainly had them on my mind by the time I finished it. The book begins with Liz debating with her husband Johnny whether to call the National Health when their son, Nathan, comes down with symptoms similar to bubonic plague. They had been told that the disease was confined “to the south,” but it becomes clear that outbreaks are happening everywhere. Within 24 hours of calling the NHS, Liz and Johnny’s house is boarded up with perspex and metal sheeting. Meager supplies are tossed to upper windows. On the inside of the house, Nathan gets sicker and sicker. Hinsley tracks the progress of the infection in agonizing detail. On top of the fear of the disease, you also get a sense of profound isolation as first the Internet, then the phone, then the water are eventually cut off.

As I read Liz’s account, I started to wonder about how victims of the plague used to be quarantined. Many were essentially left to die. Without antibiotics, nothing could be done except to wait it out and stay far, far away from anyone carrying the pestilence. The version of the plague in this novella is entirely fatal once you catch it. Nothing can stop it. Because modern medicine can’t fight it off, the victims of this plague are in the same boat as their ancestors. And what a terrifying thought that is.

I read Plague all in one sitting. When I finished, shortly before midnight, I was too freaked out to go to sleep right away. It took a long time for Liz’s story to fade from my mind. I am so glad I didn’t dream about this book last night.

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