Lawrence Wright’s harrowing new novel...is fascinating, detailed, true to life and so terrifying it will scare the sleep right out of you ... Wright is a brilliant reporter and an excellent writer ... The scenes in Saudi Arabia shimmer with desert heat and thrum with the complexity of Wright’s Muslim characters and their sometimes conflicting beliefs. Wright is excellent at gracefully working the science of viruses into the narrative, and the first half of the book, though fiction, is a great primer, in many ways, of what is happening now with COVID-19. But if the first half of the book is a slow build, the second half is almost pure action—pure, heart-stopping action ... This book will wake you up, and keep you awake. All night.
The sweeping, authoritative and genuinely intelligent thriller—the sort of novel in which the author employs a bulldozer and a scalpel at the same time—is a rare specimen. Lawrence Wright’s second novel, The End of October, is one of these. The fact that it’s about the world in shock and ruin because of a virus similar to Covid-19 makes it read as if it’s been shot out of a cannon ... As a fiction writer, Wright will not make you forget that Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood still stride the planet. His dialogue can be a bit wooden. There is some overbearing psychological development. A major character dies without the impact the moment might have had...What he offers in compensation is a great deal of learning about viruses and their attendant political and social horrors; learning that he injects into a maniacal page-turner. He offers the joy of competence — his own as a writer, and the scientific and moral competence of many of the characters he’s invented. At a moment when competence and verity are in short supply at the top, and when our best scientists cannot share their nomenclature and expertise, this is no small consolation, even while reading about humanity coming to a boil ... While we long for that frabjous day when we can put Covid-19 behind us and once again grip the communal pen at the coffee shop counter, Wright’s novel is here as a real if solemn entertainment, a stay against boredom and a kind of offered prayer for the best in us to rise to the surface.
... utterly terrifying ... Probably this seemed like fodder for informative entertainment as recently as a few months ago, but at the moment it may be more excitement than many readers can take. Zombie apocalypse yarns are fun enough when you’re cozily streaming Netflix on your living room sofa, but it’s another matter once the zombies are scrabbling with their bony fingers on your front door ... sometimes feels like the war and terrorism is meant to juice the story ... largely an information-delivery system for the history of and bad news about the pandemic threat, something journalists and public health officials—not to mention at least one Hollywood screenwriter—have been warning us about for years. It seems prophetic because Wright, unlike most of the rest of us, was paying attention ... chances are The End of October would have found only a modest audience had it been published in a COVID-19-free America during the unfolding of an exceptionally divisive presidential campaign ... As a novel, even as a thriller, this book is pretty basic. The characters are rote: noble, self-sacrificing scientists; stalwart, no-nonsense military men and women; spunky 12-year-old girls; shortsighted politicians; Jürgen with his Bond-villain hair...The novel has neither the panache of a Lee Child thriller nor the ingenuity of Harlan Coben, although occasionally a minor character stirs to life ... Nevertheless, The End of October scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t decide if it was exactly the thing I ought to be reading right now—and excuse me while I head to Walmart to pick up 50 pounds of lentils and a gun—or if it was exactly the wrong thing. It’s got me side-eyeing my neighbors and wondering if they can be counted on in a pinch.
What makes Lawrence Wright’s “The End of October” exceptional is the same quality that elevated Defoe’s work: deep, thorough research ... [Wright] applies the magisterial force of his reporting skills into spinning a novel of pestilence, war and social collapse that, given the current pandemic, cuts exceedingly close to the bone ... His understanding of world affairs, Middle East gossip, politics and governmental ineptitude is exceptional ... Despite the nonfiction scaffolding, this is a novel, and a good one ... Wright does not spare the reader. There are vivid and ghastly descriptions of hemorrhagic shock, social disorder and brutality.
So believably horrifying is The End of October—Wright’s first novel—that I initially assumed that Alfred A. Knopf would delay its publication until the worst of the coronavirus crisis had passed ... So visceral was its effect that I could have believed that I was reading a pumped-up, virtual-reality edition ... the effect was more meaningful, with every turn in the plot feeling like it carried a personal message. I will even go out on a limb and say that this is the book you need to read this spring.
... alternately sober-minded and gaudy ... His diligence shows in the dialogue’s chunks of erudite jabber explaining at length how viruses work. Along with the potted history lessons bringing readers up to speed on, variously, the 1918 influenza epidemic, vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner, and superpower biological-warfare research during the Cold War, some of this material would be a serious drag on the narrative’s momentum if Wright didn’t have an audience newly eager for every informational nugget he’s assembled ... Unless Trumpland’s wildest conspiracy theories turn out to be spot-on, these high jinks are bound to strike readers as a mite incongruous with the subject at hand. They’re also the main reason The End of October ends up reading less like Coronavirus: The Novel than Coronavirus: The Movie. Wright’s story might have made a highly entertaining one under other circumstances—if we were still able to go to movie theaters, for instance. But we hardly need Brad Pitt to play Henry Parsons when Pitt is performing a modest public service by lionizing Anthony Fauci on SNL instead.
... more Clancy than Camus: a fast-paced thriller with big, sweeping, made-for-the-adapted-screenplay action sequences, but populated by one-dimensional walking resumes who speak in paragraph-long expository chunks. There are submarine chases that channel Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October, and silver-haired, umlauted ecoterrorists who remind you of Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond villains ... But given Wright's journalistic track record, that clunky expository dialogue is the unexpected star of the novel. Wright clearly did his homework researching this book, and given his reporting background, couldn't resist sharing every fact about pandemics, infectious diseases, public health planning, government disaster contingencies and vaccines that he dug up. And while in other times, it might come across as forced and clunky, we readers are currently in the market for exactly that: Every single fact a great reporter like Wright has learned about pandemics ... If they all come couched in sometimes-awkward writing, it's no problem! After all, it's hard to criticize characters for continually working facts about the 1918 flu pandemic into every conversation, when we're all doing the exact same thing ... When the plot is keeping pace with our real-life current events, all of Wright's expository homework can lead to moments of dark humor for the reader ... gradually moves from an urgent existential warning to an escapist entertainment. The End of October is the perfect novel for a long airplane flight or a beach chair. Provided, of course, our real-life leaders are a bit more effective than Wright's fictional ones, and we're all once again able to encounter either of those this year.
The End of October is not a good book if we’re talking about sheer storytelling craft. The plot hums along ably enough, but the characters are flat, the women exist mostly to be sexually assaulted and/or die, and the prose is workmanlike at best. You’re not reading this book to experience a beautiful work of art ... Under normal circumstances, it would be an airport thriller, the kind of book you buy on a whim when your flight is delayed and leave on the plane when you’re done. But under our particular circumstances, in which I deeply hope you are not engaging in any kind of nonessential travel whatsoever, things are different ... What makes The End of October compelling to read right now is that Wright researched the hell out of what kind of infrastructure the US would need to survive a pandemic. He concluded that we did not have it. And then he drew on his formidable knowledge of domestic and international politics to imagine what would ensue...He got disconcertingly close to reality ... As I read The End of October, I found myself resenting it. It was such a silly potboiler of a novel, with such unbelievable characters, such leaden sentences, such infuriatingly clumsy dialogue. How dare the world in which I am actually living so closely resemble a fucking airport thriller? ... Wright is undoubtedly a gifted reporter and observer of the world, and the fact that he was able to so clearly see where the existing fault lines in our social fabric lay and how they could be exacerbated by a pandemic shows real skill on his part. But the fact that Wright got so many of his details overwhelmingly right is also a reminder that this pandemic did not come out of nowhere. It was not difficult to predict. It was, in fact, something that we were told was coming over and over again, something that the people we elected to protect us from such a pandemic chose to willfully ignore ... This pandemic should not have caught us off our guard. It should have been as easy to see coming as the final twist in a cheap thriller.
While the truth-is-stranger-than fiction aspects of Wright’s thriller plot may not work as well in April 2020 as they might have at a more innocent time, his skill as a nonfiction writer shines through ... the most captivating parts of his novel are his explanations of science ... The tricky thing is that because this is fiction, you’re not sure where the research ends and the dark fantasy begins ... From a character-development and story-arc perspective, there are some dubious choices. The emotional core of the book has to do with the extended separation of a family due to travel shutdown. When they are suddenly back together with no reunion scene, I felt a bit cheated. And the ever-unfolding and very crazy backstory of the main character, microbiologist Dr. Henry Parsons, flattens, rather than deepens, his character. If you are a fan of the Dan Brown/Michael Crichton school of thriller, you might be more tolerant of that sort of thing than I am. In that case, you might enjoy this book. It’s a definite maybe.
Mr. Wright...has crafted a swift and all-too-convincing chronicle of science, espionage, action and speculation that moves from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia to the U.S. as it eerily evokes real-life current events. Deeply rooted in factual research, The End of October may well prove the most frightening novel of the year.
... reading these pages is often nothing short of horrifying. After finishing The End of October, readers will reflexively flinch from the phrase 'like something out of a novel' ... Every twenty pages or so (the rough frequency of Wright’s exposition-dumps), readers living in quarantine and watching the news every day for escalating death-counts, readers already fixedly, wearily familiar with novel terminology like 'pandemic' and 'vector' and 'herd immunity' and 'lockdown,' will have to brace themselves for more of their grim new realities being weirdly transmuted into thriller-fiction before their eyes. Many of those readers simply won’t be able to continue reading ... The novel isn’t even 'too soon' - it’s 'ongoing,' and that may be too much for people who are worrying in the here-and-now about elderly relatives, lost jobs, or lines to enter the grocery store. Those people of course have an endless array of escapist reading to help, but they should remember that Wright here is an exceptionally lucky visionary, not a soulless opportunist. It’s not his fault that we’re all living in the worst-case-scenario he only imagined. And although it’s not great literature by any stretch, The End of October is by default the most timely book imaginable.
This is the novel as Nostradamus. It is bewilderingly, terrifyingly all-too-real. Which is both excellent and terrible news for Wright. No author could have asked for better timing, in terms of marketing hooks. And in the midst of panic, people inevitably turn toward art that offers a reflection, however cracked, of our current moment ... But reading The End of October is also like sticking one hand in a dormant blender, with the other hovering above the “on” switch. I have never swung so wildly between high anxiety and deep dread than when ploughing through The End of October’s 400 pages earlier this month. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I’m not quite sure whether that was a testament to the writing itself or because I had a sick anticipation of seeing what new horror awaited on the next page, just to prepare what might be coming down the pandemic pipe in my own life ... Wright frequently proves that he might be a strong journalist with impeccable instincts, but he is no literary master...he is strongest when straight-forwardly chronicling history and digging up little-known details, not painting rich interior lives or stretching a sentence until its beauty reveals itself ... strip away The End of October’s technical expertise and narrative clairvoyance – which is often hard to do, given how eerily accurate Wright is in envisioning our current reality – and the book is ultimately an elevated airport thriller ... Henry and the rest of the heroes and villains he encounters along the way are certainly interesting creations, but not exactly layered or complicated. Many incidents feel explicitly crafted to appeal to Hollywood producers looking for splashy set-pieces, and a good deal of the dialogue is just as screenplay-simple. And when Wright swerves into Henry’s professional back story, which includes the appearance of an evil genius straight out of James Bond territory (or worse: Austin Powers), the entire endeavour threatens to go off the rails ... Still, if you’re morbidly curious as to where we might stand come this fall, you’re not likely to find a clearer, more horrifying answer than The End of October. If the world reads this today, we might be able to avoid Wright’s tomorrow.
Like all good thrillers, The End of October diverts us from the real world while keeping a firm base there, letting us imagine not only disaster but the ways out of it. Wright also packs the book with fascinating factual information about past pandemics and how humanity weathered them ... there’s also a bit of comfort in this: In the book, a lot of things are much worse than they are in real life right now. And it offers a highly competent but flawed hero—Henry has secrets, some of them shocking—who might just save the day.
... a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, and its apocalyptic vision and eerily accurate predictions are the closest readers may get to understanding the crisis we are currently facing. Mr. Wright’s vision of a world faced with a novel influenza virus is so firmly rooted in 2020 that it is impossible to read without comparing it to the crisis unfolding around us in real time — and just as impossible to forget the book’s lessons ... this book is particularly terrifying because of its excruciatingly well-observed contemporary setting — leading readers to make unavoidable comparisons with the actual global reactions to the novel coronavirus.
In a gripping medical thriller...Wright meticulously paints the direst personal, social, and political scenarios that a virus can create, focusing particularly on the U.S. and Middle East descending into anarchy. Readers will find a memorable character in Henry, a doctor who is shown living with a disability while getting on with crucial work and family life. His family, too, will stay with readers, as the consequences for them form a heartbreaking microcosm of world events and the lengths to which humans will go to survive. This book is likely to be on best-of-the-year lists and is a must for public libraries.
... [a] multifaceted thriller ... Wright pulls few punches and imbues even walk-on characters with enough humanity that their fate will matter to readers. This timely literary page-turner shows Wright is on a par with the best writers in the genre.
Wright...knows his way around geopolitical terror, but he's less successful as a thriller writer, upstaged here by the recent, real-life coronavirus. There is little true suspense in the novel, which sketches in its nightmarish scenarios rather than dramatizing them. Even a suicide bombing has marginal impact. Ultimately, the book gets caught up in family drama, sentimentality, and end-of-the-world moralizing. An atheist since his missionary parents were killed in an air crash, Parsons rediscovers religion. A disturbing, eerily timed novel but no page-turner.