Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Review: The Ringway Virus

September is Outbreak the PorPor Books Blog !

Book Review: 'The Ringway Virus' by Russell Foreman

2 / 5 Stars

Russell Foreman (1921 – 2000) was an Australian author and artist. Among his friends was the author Nevil Shute, who of course wrote 'On the Beach’.

‘The Ringway Virus’ first was published in 1976. This New English Library paperback version (288 pp) was published in August 1977. The cover artist is uncredited.

The novel is set in the late 70s. As it opens the Lamberts, a British family comprised of husband Percy, wife Nell, and daughter Barbara, come into wealth. To celebrate, they set off on a lengthy journey to Australia, where they visit a remote hamlet in the outback. During their transit back to the UK Barbara becomes ill; she eventually is hospitalized in New York City with what looks like a severe case of influenza.

But the virus that has infected Barbara is no ordinary flu virus. It is in fact a highly lethal strain that will come to be called the ‘Ringway’ virus. As a team of British medical doctors struggle to characterize the agent and endeavor to create a vaccine, the number of cases – and deaths – continues to grow. Will a cure be found in time to prevent global catastrophe ? Or will the Ringway virus eliminate Mankind from the entire planet ?

I won’t be disclosing any spoilers to state that in some ways, ‘The Ringway Virus’ is much like ‘On the Beach’, but with a virus, rather than nukes, as the culprit. Indeed, ‘Ringway’ is not, as the cover blurbs would seek to have you believe, a medical thriller in keeping with ‘The Andromeda Strain’, but is in fact a melodrama built around the theme of an outbreak of plague.

The narrative is heavily reliant on dialogue, with little in the way of the documentary-style approach to exposition that is common in most ‘outbreak’ novels. The mechanics of the spread of the plague and the attempts by the public health establishment to address it almost always take place off-camera, and usually are related via telephone conversations: ‘That was Quiggley at the East Norwich Royal Infirmary. The news is not good – twelve new cases in the last twenty-four hours.’

The second half of the book covers the travels of the lead character, an epidemiologist named Michael Canning, around Australia. Here the epidemic recedes into the background, and the novel takes on the form of a travelogue; for example, author Foreman devotes nearly an entire page to describing how a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ – type Outback eccentric prepares to feed his dog some cooked lamb (!). Much space is devoted to conversations held on verandas, during which various supporting characters expound on philosophical matters.

Episodes of moralizing frequently crop up in the narrative of ‘Ringway’; these are aimed at Mankind’s Hubris, his relentless despoiling of the environment, his casual neglect of the less fortunate, his ruinous reliance on nuclear power, etc., etc. These episodes of moralizing quickly become tedious, particularly when author Foreman decides to rant against American involvement in the ‘War in Indochina’. Whatever momentum the story gains from the growing dangers of the epidemic is effectively neutralized by the inclusion of these sermons.

Although Foreman’s prose is straightforward and unencumbered, when all is said and done ‘The Ringway Virus’ doesn’t deliver as a medical thriller, and is nothing all that special as a melodrama. I really can’t recommend this novel to anyone seeking ‘epidemic’ thrills.

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