The coronavirus shutdown had barely entered its second day before social media was aflame with rumours of the likely aesthetic consequences. Doubtless, some Twitter wag suggested, Richard Curtis was already hard at work on a senior citizens’ romcom, in which, as it might be, Bill Nighy and Anna Friel would be found simpering at each other from adjoining balconies. If this prospect weren’t enough to chill the blood, the following days’ newspapers were full of reports of writers whose desk drawers just happened to contain pandemic-themed thrillers that their agents had reckoned unsaleable two years ago but were now positively glistening with commercial allure.
Sadly, the evidence of recent cultural history insists that all those unpublished manuscripts would be better off staying where they are and that Mr Curtis should be encouraged to wrench his hand from the contract. When the first coronavirus books start appearing in a year, or even six months’ time, they are far likelier to be dispatches from the medical front line written by NHS staff. You could just about imagine a halfway decent poem being written about empty streets, deserted parks and the afternoon’s death statistics. The coronavirus novel, on the other hand, will probably have to wait.