Book Review: The Plague – Jacqueline Rose


Posted 10 months ago in Print

It’s certainly not easy to recount the events and feelings of the Covid-19 pandemic, but not for lack of trying; we have made the choice to actively forget, block out and look past Covid’s effects, in order to continue living our lives as normal. This ability to forget and move on, however, is a privilege held by only a select few, as Jacqueline Rose demonstrates in her latest collection of essays.

The Plagues anthology spans from the very first UK lockdown in 2020, to Putin’s initial invasion of Ukraine. Rose copies the title from Camus’ The Plague that conveys ‘how, in the very moment we appear to be facing the grimmest reality, we might also be deluding ourselves.’ Rose debunks throughout these essays the myth that has been told and retold to us since the de-escalation of the pandemic: that we as a people banded together to defend the vulnerable during a global crisis. In fact, Rose notes it was the purposeful negligence and incompetence of global polity, and of the UK’s government specifically, that exacerbated this crisis and even sparked satellite crises to the pandemic, as they failed to prevent and take responsibility for thousands of needless deaths. The pandemic’s coincidence with the war in Ukraine, (another crisis that can be, though it shouldn’t, annexed from the collective concern of the Western population), provides Rose an ample opportunity to analyse humankind’s relationship to death in her most cutting work yet.

‘What do you do with death and dying when they can no longer be pushed to the outer limits of your lived experience or dismissed from your conscious mind?’ In one of her essays “To Die One’s Own Death,” Rose accompanies her analysis with Freud’s conceptualisation of the ‘death drive,’ introduced in Beyond the Pleasure Principle shortly after the death of his favourite child, Sophie. The ‘death drive’ implies that all humans have a subconscious determination toward death and destruction, which Rose suggests helped Freud accept death as a necessary evil and soothed his grief. She notes, ‘a remorseless law of nature is preferable to a death that should — might — not have taken place.’

“Roses The Plague is a masterpiece of on-the-pulse political criticism and portrayal of our populations moral makeup.”

How, then, can we reconcile this idea with the onslaught of preventable pandemic-related deaths not subject to a law of nature, deaths which were previously unfathomable in their quality of suffering and abruptness? Human beings cannot find grief in the pandemic’s fatally unrelenting momentum as, Rose continues, ‘one person after another is confronted with the intolerable idea that their loved ones died through the sheer reckless inefficiency of political scoundrels whose behaviour, in the words of one Guardian newspaper columnist, “is often indistinguishable from deliberate destructiveness.”’

Rose’s The Plague is a masterpiece of on-the-pulse political criticism and portrayal of our population’s moral makeup. Though her critical focus is on the actions of British and American governments and those countries’ populations, her writings on herd mentality, virtue, and the limits of justice make The Plague a vital read for anyone in our post-pandemic world.

Words: Ciara Berkeley

The Plague

Jacqueline Rose

[Fitzcarraldo Editions]

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