A New York-based blogger chronicles a worldwide flu outbreak until the fallout from the pandemic—and his blogging—crashes through his front door.
Maskman, aka Count Blogula, is a libertarian flu profiteer, selling gloves, masks and goggles on his website while writing feverishly about the coming pandemic, a deadly strain of avian flu called H5N1. When his blog’s readership explodes overnight, educating the masses from his online soapbox becomes priority one, making him an anonymous celebrity in the flu-blog community, even earning him a mysterious, yet charming, female stalker. As more people succumb to the disease, Blogula watches as his community descends into anarchy, and the country falls into a state of martial law, where America’s most prolific flu fighter is now branded a terrorist. Hall’s debut recalls a modern take on Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, striving for and mostly achieving the same level of thoroughness. The novel is well researched and notable for pointing out what we know, or perhaps more importantly don’t know, about influenza. The sole complication is the narrator. Blogula is a detached, half-Randian narcissist, lacking compassion in little ways that speak volumes about his character, making him feel largely unreliable. While these flaws render many of his valid points suspect, it actually strengthens the story, and the surplus of self-involved musings directed at readers perfectly captures the unique tone often struck by even the most professional bloggers. The only other downside to the book’s “blog as a novel” literary device is pacing-related—big moments, from the flu’s resurgences to the breakdown of law and order, are almost always recounted in the past tense, robbing these events of urgency and narrative weight. Still, this same style allows for intimate slices of life amid the horror, inspirational impressions of perseverance and survival in a time of great crisis.
A tad dry and exposition-heavy, the novel’s style is ultimately more of an asset than a detriment to the story it seeks to tell.