These eerily prescient novels were written before and published during Covid-19

SINGAPORE - If the title Leave The World Behind evokes the quixotic tagline of an Airbnb listing, that is exactly what American novelist Rumaan Alam wants you to think.

In his novel, a middle-class white couple and their two children head to a luxury getaway in a remote Long Island Airbnb home.

But this dream vacation goes awry when an older black couple who claim to be the home owners arrive overnight, saying there has been a blackout in New York City and they have fled home.

Tensions rise as the home's off-the-grid idyll becomes a nightmare of isolation. Networks are down. Strange sounds rend the air. One child is beset by an inexplicable disease, the other vanishes into the woods.

Alam, 43, came up with the idea for the novel in 2017. He had no clue then that he would produce a work that somehow hits so many buttons of contemporary anxiety: the Covid-19 pandemic, the racial tensions fuelling the Black Lives Matter movement, the climate crisis, and even the loss of travel.

"It's just a coincidence that so many of the concerns of the book dovetail with the reality in which we live," he says in a Skype interview from his home in New York.

"At the same time, the artist is an antenna. Things might be metastasising right now in a specific way, but they've been present for a long time. Sometimes, there are sensibilities distilling something that we don't necessarily know is in the air, until we see it in the art."

Alam, who was born in the United States to Bangladeshi immigrant parents, has written two other novels, Rich And Pretty (2016), about female friendship, and That Kind Of Mother (2018), about transracial adoption.

He and his husband have two adopted sons, aged eight and 11, who are black.

Leave The World Behind is his buzziest book yet. A finalist for this year's National Book Awards for Fiction, it has been picked up for a Netflix film adaptation starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.

Alam prefers to employ not the melodrama of apocalypse, but the slow creep of dread.

"There's a certain kind of pinch you feel in your fingers when you're not able to get to your mobile phone. We've all heard an imagined alert from our phone and looked at it, and there's been nothing there," he says.

"There's something much more effective about art that deploys an inner level of discomfort that stays inside of you, so it's a lingering experience. My hope is that although what's depicted in this book should feel very removed from your own experience, there are these tiny things that remind you how realist a work it is."

• Leave The World Behind ($29.95) is available at bit.ly/LWorldBehind_RA

Four other eerily prescient books published during the pandemic

1. The Silence

Book cover of The Silence by Don DeLillo. PHOTO: PICADOR

By Don DeLillo

Picador/Hardcover/116 pages/ $30.94/ Available at bit.ly/TheSilence_DD

"Who knows what any of this means?" says a character in this unsettling novella. "Is our normal experience simply being stilled? Are we witnessing a deviation in nature itself? A kind of virtual reality?"

DeLillo, one of American fiction's great purveyors of paranoia, produced this slender apocalyptic tale in the days before Covid-19 struck. There is no virus in these pages, but psychologically, this is pitched perfectly for the current crisis.

In 2022, two wealthy couples arrange to meet for dinner in Manhattan. One couple are in flight when an unexplained cataclysm causes everything in the world to lose power - including their plane.

2. The End Of October

Book cover of The End Of October by Lawrence Wright. PHOTO: DAVID A. LAND

By Lawrence Wright

Transworld/ Paperback/480 pages/$19.26/Available at bit.ly/EndofOct_LW

In 2010, film-maker Ridley Scott approached Wright, a Pulitzer-winning journalist, to write a screenplay about the end of civilisation.

The film never got made, but Wright poured his research into this unnervingly prophetic thriller, in which American virologist Henry Parsons races to stem the deadly Kongoli virus as it sweeps through the world, killing millions and escalating into war.

3. Survivor Song

Book cover of Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay. PHOTO: TITAN

By Paul Tremblay

Titan/Paperback/ 305 pages/ $19.57/Available at bit.ly/SurvivorSong_PT

Imagine Covid-19, but with zombies. In a Massachusetts overrun by the rabid, two women - Ramola, a paediatrician, and her friend Natalie, heavily pregnant and newly bitten by an infected man - race against time to get Natalie vaccinated and, failing that, find an obstetrician who can perform a caesarean to save her unborn child.

4. The Pull Of The Stars

Book cover of The Pull Of The Stars by Emma Donoghue. PHOTO: PAN MACMILLAN

By Emma Donoghue

Pan Macmillan/Paperback/295 pages/$29.95/Available at bit.ly/PullStars_ED

Donoghue is most acclaimed for confinement novel Room (2010), a classic of the lockdown genre before that was even a thing.

In this historical look at healthcare workers on the front line, she depicts the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic through the eyes of Julia Power, a nurse midwife in an overwhelmed, understaffed maternity ward at a Dublin hospital.

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