I mentioned recently that I’d been having a tough time, and for what it’s worth escapism helped get me through it a little bit by taking me completely out of myself to elsewhere. Admittedly, that involved zoning out to more episodes of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix than any self-respecting 29-year-old should admit to, but occasionally, when I felt up to it, it took the form of books as well.
Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn was probably the most compelling of these. Any book which opens with a Tory MP taking out six members of the public while sat on his apartment balcony in London can’t fail to get your attention. It was an outrageous yet credible start to a novel- almost daring the reader to disbelieve before setting up the main body of the novel which follows the only survivor of a deadly virus as she hunts for answers about her lover’s death as all the while society breaks down around her.
Coming hot on the heels of the horrific Ebola outbreaks, the novel is highly topical and innovative in exploring the way in which a disease which is contagious as the victim shows no obvious symptoms might spread and cause utter devastation in the first world. Named only the sweats, perhaps as a nod to the sweating sickness which was similarly virulent in Medieval England, Welsh’s imaginary virus is all the more terrifying for being unidentifiable and uncategorisable by the medical profession.
While the novel was incredibly strong throughout, I thought the very ending tended towards an almost cinematic melodrama which had me questioning whether Stevie, the ultimate survivor, would actually have continued to act in the way that she does. Having said that, I’m looking forward to reading Death is a Welcome Guest which will be the second novel in Louise Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy.