New Island Books
Many have expressed dismay at the dismal prospect of pandemic derived fiction. I share their concerns. What has surely proved nourishing these past months, however, is the long catalogue of past literary fiction inspired by the various plagues that have afflicted humanity over the centuries. Most conspicuously, the relevance of Camus’s La Peste briefly inspired a flurry of re-readings and exegeses.
Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron is perhaps the greatest literary work ever to arise from a pandemic – in his case, the chillingly lethal 14th century “Black Death.” Offered in New Island’s Tales We Tell Ourselves is a selection from Boccaccio’s original 100 stories, retold by the prolific novelist and playwright, Carlo Gébler, whose aim is “to showcase the art Boccaccio made in response to a crisis so like our own and partly to draw attention to his belief in the capacity of narrative to restore the battered psyche to health.”
The collection is epigraphed by Milan Kundera’s contention that the Decameron is “the source and forerunner” of the European novel. It’s hard not to agree. While almost endearingly primitive in psychological depth, these tales, many of which will elicit shock, others laughter, nevertheless retain an undeniable resonance in their frank portrayal of sexual, economic and political power.
If the Decameron is anything to go by, perhaps I’m mistaken in my dismissal of pandemic-inspired fiction, and there is something great on the horizon.
words: Luke Warde