I can’t imagine that anyone who read this novel before 2020 was very much surprised at what came next. This is a novel about plague reaching an Alergian port city, carried by the fleas that inhabit rats. Dead rats start showing up in tremendous numbers around the city, and even though the evidence is clear, the city is small to move on precautions that will save lives. Our narrator is watching this occur and this novel is presented almost as commentary and reportage on the events, so much as involved in them. The city already slow to act continues to slow play precautions, and the when the restrictions do come, not only are the slow and not enforced, they rely too much on citizens to do the right things and in being asked to do ANYTHING for the greater good, the citizen form factions and refuse.
The novel also becomes a thesis on death itself. The narrator discusses how in a city infected by plague the living there is already in a state of infected/not infected. What I mean by this is that plague is the state of being for everyone in the city regardless of whether someone is actually infected. So being in the city means you already have plague, even if you don’t have plague. This isn’t a question of inevitability so much as an existential or ontological sense of plague. We already know this feeling, especially if you think back to the first few weeks in March 2020.