Digital Culture

Capitalising on the Coronavirus

Mary Karayel

“The outbreak of a mysterious and deadly disease” and the search for a vaccine. Is this an extract from the BBC on the developments of COVID-19? No, this is the synopsis to Stanley Johnson’s novel The Virus. 

Formerly known as the Marburg Virus, The Virus was first published in 1982 by Boris Johnson’s father and a former Conservative Party politician. It is a thriller based on a virus outbreak in Germany during the 1960s and follows “top epidemiologist,” Lowell Kaplan, as he single-handedly saves New York City from the deadly virus. 

The novel has been long out of print in the UK, but Johnson and Black Spring Press decided that May 2020 was a perfect time to re-publish the novel… during a global pandemic where thousands of people have died from coronavirus.

Stanley Johnson, when approached by the Guardian, defended his actions of republishing the novel during such a sensitive time, asking “Is it opportunistic for journalists and newspapers to be writing about the coronavirus?” No, Stanley. Journalists are holding politicians like Boris Johnson to account and informing the public about key developments in the pandemic. A comparison between the two is laughable and shows how thoughtless this venture of republishing really is. 

The re-published novel boasts a new Preface written by Stanley Johnson in May 2020 in which he claims his original intention for the novel was to be “entertaining and instructive.” I think any literature boasting to be “instructive” during a time of great uncertainty, and “entertaining” by telling a story of disease whilst the world is suffering the ramifications of a virus, is incredibly out of touch with what readers want and need right now. 

Stanley Johnson isn’t the only one capitalising on the pandemic as M. J Edwards released Kissing the Coronavirus as an ebook in April 2020. The humour-erotic novella tells the story of an epidemiologist who falls in love with coronavirus personified. Yes, you read that correctly. It immediately went viral on Twitter and YouTube with several book reviews and unofficial audiobooks. It has since even been released in paperback for keen fans willing to fork out £4.99 for the 20-page erotica. 

The author M.J Edwards wrote the novella to make money after losing her job in the pandemic, perhaps showing she has a bit more integrity than Stanley Johnson. The two-part novellas (Yes, there is a second instalment called The Second Wave) is clearly tongue-in-cheek humour that is heavily ironic. For example, the epidemiologist protagonist Dr Alexa describes how Covid personified “takes her breath away” which is both a romantic cliche and symptom of the virus. Genius. 

The series also has many positive reviews on Amazon, with one suggesting it is “the best thing to come out of Covid”. Whilst it is still a writing venture that is capitalising on the pandemic, M.J Edward’s novellas aim to make people laugh and provide relief from all the suffering whilst Johnson’s willing to scaremonger to claim the authority to provide instruction to the public. 

Is Kissing the Coronavirus high brow and “instructive”? No. Would I prefer to read the humour-erotica over Johnson’s serious thriller The Virus?