If any Scottish writer was going to tackle the task of writing a pandemic novel head-on, Ewan Morrison was always going to be among the favourites. Never one to shy away from a controversial or current topic, he has previously written about swinging (Swung), the complexities of capitalism (Tales From the Mall), sexual obsession (Distance) and communes, cults and the damage they cause (Close Your Eyes and Nina X).
His latest, How To Survive Everything (When There’s No One Left to Trust), is instantly recognisable as a Ewan Morrison novel, with a dark heart at its centre. Teenager Haley Cooper Crowe is taken by her father to a remote and hidden location in what most people would call an abduction. This is not a spur-of-the-moment idea, as ‘Dad’ has clearly been planning everything for some time, believing that there is only one way to survive another pandemic – his way.
Haley’s father has gathered a small group of committed acolytes to help the family survive, but there is still one person missing to complete this distinctly non-nuclear family. Dad’s detailed survival manual becomes the group’s sacred text, containing practical ways to cope if the worst does happen, as well as setting out just what that ‘worst’ could be. Haley has to sort fact from fiction to discover what is actually happening in the rest of the world, as opposed to her parent’s propaganda. With everyone’s situation changing on an almost daily basis, and relationships shifting constantly, she isn’t sure if she should stay and fight or take flight.
How To Survive Everything is absolutely gripping from the start, but initially it’s not exactly an easy read. That’s partly because it all feels very close to home. While it would be interesting to re-read in the future, clearly the novel’s immediacy is a major reason for its impact and existence.
Morrison refuses to sugarcoat the pill when setting out the potential extremes of a pandemic; his research into the subject is clear and thorough and therefore hard-hitting. But, as you read on, you realise that this is a novel which has family at its centre, and you can’t help but care about Haley’s as they discover what’s really important to them, and that some ties bind tighter than they may realise. As a result you reflect on what, and who, is important in your own life. It’s a novel to lend perspective, and that’s something that is increasingly welcome.
Main image credit: Paul Harkins