It is 1967. A mysterious disease appears in an English town. People fall down suddenly, poleaxed, and many die. Is it caused by a bacterium, a virus, a poison? Nobody knows, and top doctors squabble over its cause. But then two junior doctors and a young anthropology student, who has recovered from the disease, join together.
The three investigators continue their work to find out the cause of the disease, a virus whose worst effects are only shown in those who are very anxious. They think they have found the cause and the solution. But will they be in time?
This is a gripping dystopian tale, very much relevant to events unfolding today and written by Emeritus Professor of Community Psychiatry at Imperial College, London, Peter Tyrer whose long-standing interest in the connections between mental and physical health informed the novel.
I seem to have read a lot of books recently about pandemics and diseases, real and imaginary, which considering this year’s stellar performance of These Are The End Times, seems to make some sense.
This book, written in 2018/19, is very interesting in that the infection is highly localised and the town takes the decision to close its borders and see if they can wait out the virus, while also continuing to look for both the origin and a treatment. This isn’t a new idea, famously a village in Derbyshire, Eyam, chose to completely cut itself off during an outbreak of plague in 1665, rather than risk spreading the Black Death beyond its borders.
What’s most interesting, and for me somewhat unnerving, is the idea that this virus, Poleaxe, affects people with underlying anxiety disorders far more seriously than anyone else. I have anxiety disorder and panic disorder, as well as depression, so were Poleaxe a real disease I’d be struck down very quickly and struggle to recover.
Luckily the protagonist of this novel, the very clever anthropology student Barbara, does recover and indeed identifies the origin of the virus and the link between anxiety and the more serious symptoms. This allows the health authorities to lift the quarantine and treat the afflicted.
Written by an expert psychiatrist lends a certain air of knowledge and expertise to the novel – if this was a real disease I know who I’d want working alongside the other doctors, someone who has a great understanding of the link between mental and physical health, a fact that has been thrown into sharp focus by the current pandemic and lockdown, but is often overlooked when treating medical conditions.
This book is both timely and also, thankfully, very much science fiction as opposed to fact, I hope.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.