Bio-thrilling realism: since the pandemic, there has been an exponential rise in vi-fi – contemporary fiction that features the devastating events of world-changing outbreaks and epidemics – by a new COVID generation of authors who came out of isolation having experienced a pandemic in real time. PhD student Lucyl Harrison and Dr Catherine Wynne, Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise, Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education, suggest five titles.
Vi-fi, short for virus fiction, describes contemporary fiction that features the devastating events of world-changing outbreaks and epidemics.
Rooted in science fiction, vi-fi draws on bio-thrilling realism and parallel worlds with multiple, dystopian possibilities.
Since 2020 there has been an exponential rise in vi-fi by a new COVID generation of authors who came out of isolation having experienced a pandemic in real time.
We present a podcast about the latest in pandemic fiction. Here are five books about COVID we’ll be looking out for in 2024:
Day by Michael Cunningham, released January 18
Published 25 years after his literary masterpiece, The Hours, Cunningham’s new book, Day, taps into the COVID genre’s sense of a distortion of time.
The plot recounts the troubles of married couple, Dan and Isabel, and their children, Nathan and Violet and Isabel’s younger wayward brother, who lives a secret life on Instagram in the attic, as they navigate the pressures of lockdown in a brownstone townhouse in Brooklyn.
The narrative is built around the events of three separate days, each a year apart. The first is just as the pandemic is about to hit in 2019, the second during the middle of the lockdown in 2020, and the third as they are coming out of the lockdown in April 2021.
COVID is never mentioned by name, but the narrative promises tumultuous themes of incarceration and isolation, the extremely difficult accommodations that families had to make and the ways that so much is left unspoken between people.
Fourteen Days by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston, released February 6
Inspired by Italian Renaissance writer Giovanni Boccaccio’s book, The Decameron (1353), and a short story collection by the New York Times called The Decameron Project (2020), comes this much anticipated collaborative pandemic novel.
Beginning on the first week of lockdown in March 2020 the narrative takes place in a rundown New York City apartment complex where tenants share stories on the rooftop.
The book features different chapters written by A-list authors such as Emma Donoghue (Pull of the Stars), John Grisham, Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere) and Weike Wang (Joan is Okay).
The book vows to be packed with secrets, ghost tales and sensational revelations from self-isolation, when the residents’ outlook on their situation is forever altered by the story of the newest, anonymous tenant: the Super.
Blue Ruin by Hari Kunzru, released May 16
Kunzru’s portrait of the pandemic is tipped to be the most gripping COVID-noir novel yet.
Twenty years after graduating from a London art school, Jay is working as a delivery driver in New York in 2020. Having just returned to work afer the first lockdown, he unknowingly collapses on the porch of an enormous mansion in the middle of a remote woodland. There, his former lover from art school, Alice, is living with Rob, the man she she left him for and who was also his former best friend, as well as with Marshal, a gallery owner, and his girlfriend.
Exhausted with sickness, Jay is confronted by the personal history he has tried to shove into the rearview mirror. But this chance encounter in the middle of lockdown begins to unravel the secrets of his darkly destructive past with fateful consequences.
Dear Dickhead by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne, released in September
Dubbed “a French punk on the literary scene” and the “literary Balzac”, Virginie Despentes – who was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018 for her novel Vernon Subutex 1 – takes on #MeToo, COVID and social media cancel culture in Wynne’s translation of her new book.
A writer threatened by the public scrutiny of his “flirtations” with women, Oskar Jayack, finds himself at the centre of an Instagram hate when he rants on social media about the 50-year-old declining actress, Rebecca Latte, blaspheming her in a string of brutal insults which degenerates her as a dirty, worn-out, loud old woman.
Despentes uses email exchanges between the characters, but the author’s real message comments on a string of modern social problems: on transphobia, addiction, abuse and the effects of COVID policies.
Real Americans by Rachel Khong, published April 30
Khong’s take on the popular genre of generational saga ushers us into the past, across three continents and onto a post-pandemic Washington island.
This is an expansive social novel about the lives of three members of a Chinese American family, spanning 70 years: May (who we meet in 2030), Lily (in 2000) and Nick Chen (in 2021).
Nick is only 15, but he can’t help feeling that his mother, Lily, is hiding something from him. The only thing Nick knows about himself is that his dad is white and has never wanted to be in his life. He sets out to search for his biological father and get some answers.
Khong queries modern concerns through questions which plague her cast of characters. How much of our lives come from a spark of chance? Are we destined, or made, and if so, who gets to do the making? What makes a real American?
This article by Lucyl Harrison and Dr Catherine Wynne was originally published by The Conversation. The views or opinions expressed by individuals do not necessarily reflect those of the University.