The New Yorker staff writer and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Looming Tower offers a prescient medical thriller about a pandemic that travels from an internment camp in Indonesia across the globe to the United States, where it dismantles institutions and decimates the population. Epidemiologist Henry Parsons finds himself stuck abroad, where he was investigating the disease, while his wife and children in Atlanta struggle to survive.
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.